Kenya is preparing to shut down two camps hosting over 430,000 refugees by June 2022, the government said on Thursday.
The announcement came after Kenya gave the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) a two-week ultimatum to come up with a road map to close the Dadaab and Kakuma camps.
Following a meeting between Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, the East African country said it planned to repatriate some and give others residency.
UNHCR presented Kenya with what it said were "sustainable rights-based measures" for finding solutions for the refugees' long-standing displacement.
Kenya and the UNHCR "agree that refugee camps are not a long-term solution to forced displacement" and are working to find alternative solutions under the Global Compact on Refugees, a joint statement read.
"A joint team comprising officials from the Kenyan government and the agency will therefore be formed to finalize and implement a road map on the next steps towards a humane management of refugees in both camps."
What are the alternatives for refugees?
UNHCR's measures include voluntary return for refugees in safety and dignity, departures to third countries or alternative stay options in Kenya for certain East African refugees.
Kenya will offer free work permits for refugees from East African countries to integrate into Kenyan communities, or return to their country of origin, Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i said.
"I believe that the government and people of Kenya will continue to show their generous hospitality towards refugees as they have done for nearly three decades, while we carry on discussions on a strategy to find the most durable, appropriate and rights-based solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers residing in the refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma," Grandi said.
The two camps in northern Kenya host mostly refugees who fled turmoil and war in Somalia and South Sudan.
Why is Kenya closing refugee camps?
Kenya first announced its intentions to shut down the camps in 2016, arguing that the Dadaab refugee camp was a source of insecurity.
Some officials said jihadi rebels of al-Qaida affiliated Al-Shabab group have used it as a recruiting ground and base for launching terrorist attacks in Kenya. However, authorities have not provided conclusive proof.
Legal challenges could slow down the government's plan. Kenya's High Court had ruled against the camps' closure.
Kenya's move is also seen as retaliation against Somalia amid a rift between the two countries.
Somalia had insisted on pursuing a case at the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime border with Kenya, which wants the case settled out of court.
fb/aw (AP, Reuters)