NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The Kenyan government has extended by six months its deadline for sending home at least 260,000 Somali refugees to close the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya's east, the country's interior minister said Wednesday.
The government postponed the November 30 deadline after the U.N. refugee agency requested a delay, Joseph Nkaissery said. "The government has accepted the request to extend the deadline for completion of repatriation of Somali refugees and eventual closure of Dadaab Refugee complex by six months," said Nkaissery.
The volatile security situation in Somalia and upcoming elections had made it difficult for Kenya and other partners to meet the deadline, he said. Kenya's government announced in May that Dadaab will be closed saying the camp was creating security problems.
Nkaissery denied Kenya is coercing refugees to return to war-torn Somalia.
Refugees who returned to Somalia told The Associated Press that Kenyan authorities were forcing them to go back to Somalia where they risk getting killed or being forcibly recruited into the deadly Islamic extremist group al-Shabab. Those claims were also made by Amnesty International in a report this week.
But the government said it is following proper procedures. "Kenya is committed to upholding international law in the repatriation process because we respect all international protocols that are signatory," Nkaissery said.
An elaborate repatriation program will begin in December and the process will be done in a humane, safe and dignified manner that insures none of the refugees is put in harm's way, he said.
Some who voluntarily returned to Somalia from Dadaab camp told The Associated Press they are now facing hunger despite promises that they would be assisted.
Nkaissery said 262,000 refugees remain at the camp and so far 16,000 have been repatriated over the last six months.
Kenya has said the closure of Dadaab is necessary because the sprawling camp is a recruitment ground for al-Shabab and a base for the extremist group to launch attacks on Kenya. Al-Shabab has carried out several attacks on Kenya, which sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants who are waging an insurgency against the country's weak western-backed government.