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Kenya's Change Of Heart Brings Temporary Relief To San Diego's Somali Population

Ben Curtis AP
Parts of Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, are seen from a helicopter in northern Kenya in 2012.

Kenya's Change Of Heart Brings Temporary Relief To San Diego's Somali Population
The decision to close the world's largest refugee camp has been put on hold, at least for now. The development is welcome news to San Diego's Somali residents, many of whom have friends and family still at the camp in Kenya.

The decision to close the world's largest refugee camp has been put on hold, at least for now. The development is welcome news to San Diego's Somali residents, many of whom have friends and family still at the camp in Kenya.

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The country's widely-criticized plans to close its Dadaab refugee camp originally included returning nearly half of its 320,000 Somali inhabitants to their home country. Now, a Kenya official indicates the plans may be on hold until Somalia is safe for refugees to return, the International Business Times reported Monday.

According to the Times, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery made the announcement on Sunday that plans to close the camp were on hold "until peace in Somalia is restored."

Nkaissery told the news outlet, "We are just waiting for the world to pacify Somalia for them to be able to go."

Said Abiyow, president of the Somali Bantu Association of America in San Diego, said he is happy about the news but still a bit cautious.

"I need to hear in writing, something that is a confirmation," Abiyow said.

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Abiyow, who said his sister lives in the Dadaab camp, has contacted officials in the United States and Kenya to learn more details about the plan. He said Somali residents in San Diego have also written letters to government offices to express their concerns about the closure.

The statement from Kenya's interior minister coincides with a visit from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged officials to keep the Dadaab camp open. In an announcement of his own, Kerry said the United States will up its aid to Somalia and Kenya by $146 million.

"This new funding includes a significant new contribution of more than $59 million for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to protect and assist refugees in Kenya, and support voluntary refugee returns to Somalia. In addition, the funding includes new humanitarian assistance of more than $87 million in food and non-food support for refugees and drought victims in Kenya and Somalia," a statement from from Kerry's office said.

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says officials from Kenya, Somalia and the U.N. agency will discuss the situation at a meeting in October.

"The Tripartite Commission members agreed to meet in October 2016 to review progress made on the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya," Brian Hansford wrote in an email Tuesday. "Kenya has international obligations towards persons who seek international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 AU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. UNHCR will continue to engage with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia within the framework of the tripartite agreement to ensure that the return of Somali refugees is voluntary and is conducted in a safe, dignified and humane manner."

The United Nations General Assembly will also likely discuss the situation at its refugee and migration summit next month. President Barack Obama is also hosting a global summit on the topic in September.