Jesuit Refugee Service Kenya has added its voice to that of the nation’s Bishops in calling on the Kenyan government to keep the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps open.

In a statement issued on Monday, JRS-Kenya “reaffirms the appeal from the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops and recommends that the Government of Kenya exert maximum forethought and caution in this particular time of uncertainty, wisely considering the legal obligations imposed by international law and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention.”

The statement urges the Kenyan government to bear in mind the principle of non-refoulment (guaranteeing “that no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm), as well as “the practical limitations” of closing the camps, and the “moral obligation to take care of the most vulnerable in society and to pursue the common good.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service’s statement echoes the appeal earlier this month of the Kenyan Bishops, which acknowledged Kenya’s efforts to host and protect refugees and asylum seekers. “This has been a good gesture to these people who felt they are a lot safer in Kenya,” they say. However, the Bishops continue, “it is highly unfortunate and regrettable that the intention by the Kenyan authorities to close the Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee camps within a short timeframe comes at a time that these people need help.”

There are more than 410,000 people in the two camps, including women, children, and the elderly. The camps host forcibly displaced people from Somalia, South Sudan, the Great Lakes region in Africa, and the Tigray region in Ethiopia.

Calling for a comprehensive approach to the “complex refugee situation” in the country, the Kenyan Bishops Conference recommends the government shelve the “unfortunate idea” of closing the camps, and instead “increase security and any other support to the refugees as well as the bodies that work directly with them in ensuring they receive their basic needs.”

The appeal concludes by calling on the government to “treat all refugees with care and concern especially during this period of the Covid-19 pandemic when humanity is faced with serious economic and psychological challenges.” By Tommaso Pozzi, Catholic Herald