The Ramifications of Kenya’s Decision to Expel Refugees From Dadaab Camp

by | Jul 6, 2016

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About Alvin Attalo

Alvin Attalo is an LL.M candidate at the University of Kent, pursuing his Masters in International Human Rights and International Criminal Law. He is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya with a Post Graduate Diploma from the Kenya School of Law and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Moi University School of Law. Alvin has a keen interest in Transnational law with a specific focus on international human rights, refugee law and international criminal law. Alvin is also an expert on matters EAC Treaty Law and Regional Integration, having handled a number of assignments pertaining the same in the East African Community.


Alvin Attalo “The Ramifications of Kenya’s decision to expel refugees from Dadaab Camp” (OxHRH Blog, July 2016) <> [Date of access].

The Kenyan government has come under sharp criticism following its decision to return refugees in Dadaab Camp back to Somalia. While Kenya as a sovereign State has the right to control the entry, residence and expulsion of aliens, this right is subject to treaty obligations as was stated in Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v The United Kingdom. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are applicable to Kenya in their entirety as Kenya acceded to them without any reservations. This also applies to the 1969 OAU Convention on refugee problems in Africa. All these conventions form part of the laws of Kenya pursuant to Articles 2 (5) and (6) of the 2010 Constitution which make international covenants ratified by Kenya and customary international law part of Kenyan law.

Both Article 5 of the OAU Convention and Article 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Refugee Convention stipulate that the repatriation of refugees to their countries of origin can only be carried out either voluntarily, or pursuant to the cessation of refugee status respectively. As regards to the former, the OAU Convention prescribes safeguards meant to guarantee refugees’ safe return to their homeland while cessation under the 1951 Refugee Convention is only applicable once it has been judged that the circumstances in the country of origin have fundamentally and durably changed so as to permit the cessation.

Having this in mind, the directive to return refugees to Somalia without their consent is thus a breach of the non-refoulement principle prohibiting the forceful return of refugees to persecution or danger recognised both under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law. Although an expelling State is not generally under an obligation to guarantee the rights of persons in another jurisdiction, its responsibility is engaged when it makes a decision relating to a person within its jurisdiction, and the inevitable and foreseeable consequence is that the expelled person’s fundamental human rights will be violated in another jurisdiction.

Of particular importance is the fact that the principle of non-refoulment  is acknowledged by Kenya in Section 18 of its Refugee Act. This therefore means the directive can also be said to be a direct breach of the State’s own statutory provisions. Moreover, Kenya has a tripartite agreement that only allows voluntary repatriation and places an obligation on the government to ensure the safety and security of those being repatriated as well as respect for the preservation of family unity. The directive issued would therefore fly in the face of this agreement. It also undermines the family institution as many of the refugees may well be separated from their families having intermarried with members of the indigenous communities in Kenya.  Additionally, given that the country is presently at war with the Alshabaab in Somalia, many of the refugees may be the subject of attacks having fled and “not shown loyalty to their State” (Somalia).

A further important point to be noted is that, while Article 33 (2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention allows for lawful refoulement, the provision must be applied only on an individual and exceptional basis. The directive issued by the government however seeks to expel hundreds of thousands of refugees for the ostensible reason that terrorists were using Dadaab Camp as a hideout. Despite the threat posed by terrorism being beyond dispute, this cannot be used as an excuse for weakening fundamental human rights enshrined in both international and domestic laws binding to Kenya. Not only would this be a violation of an absolute and peremptory rule of international law, it may also amount to a crime against humanity.

States, in attempting to combat terrorism, are required to adopt measures in accordance with their obligations to protect human rights under international law. Additionally, where expulsion is on grounds of public order or national security, Article 32 of the 1951 Refugee Convention contains a number of procedural safeguards. It requires that the expulsion ‘of such a refugee shall be only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with due process of law’.

Based on the overview just presented, the directive to return Somali refugees could amount to a violation of both national and international laws. The ramifications of these are that the directive may attract infamy and lead to sanctions against Kenya by the international community.

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  1. Yonah

    Nice piece. However, at times such extraordinary situations call for extremely extraordinary measures especially when such camps pose a serious threat to the Kenyan lives.

    • Eredi

      Well written piece. Yonah note that the law is distinguished from personal or emotive persuasions and Kenya ought to find a legal channel for doing this.

      • Alvin Attalo

        Much appreciated @Eredi. We should initiate correspondence for further discussion

    • Alvin Attalo

      Yonah. I believe you are referring to Article 24 of the Kenyan Constitution. However such should also be in conformity with Human rights and in no instance can National laws be invoked as a justification for violation of International law.

  2. shimenga

    Interesting piece counsel

    • Alvin Attalo

      I’m honoured @Shimenga

  3. Charles Mabiru

    Does it mean that Kenya’s obligation to protect her citizens can be overridden by her duty to protect the refugees Human Rights?

    • Alvin Attalo

      Not really, Charles. Though depending on the type of treatment standard, a state has an obligation with the treatment it subjects its refugees to.There is the national treatment standard in which case the refugees would be required to be treated in the same way as nationals and then there is the international treatment standard which is pegged on the “reasonable and impartial man’s test”

  4. Brian Wabala

    Good read Attalo!

  5. Ruth Wacuka

    Nice article Atalo… As a country we can argue that the circumstances in Somalia has fundamentally changed since the country now has a stable government, and the control of the alshabaab militia taken over… Plus the Civil war that led to the refugee coming to Kenya was over so we could argue on the grounds of cessation of their refugee status

    • Alvin Attalo

      Be that as it may Ruth, such expulsion would separate individuals from their families as some refugees have intermarried with the Kenyan tribes .Also do recall that repatriation should be voluntary, not coerced .

  6. Kotonya - Yogo

    Mr. Attalo, fundamentally good narrative. I am persuaded. share with me your contacts for further discussion and insight.

  7. Michael Nturo

    Nice narrative Alvin. What an insight. The fight against terror has seen fundamental rights being breached. This with reference to extra-judicial killings to some of our Muslim brothers. This in some analytical view has triggered radicalization of the militia. This example of extra-judicial killings coupled with the forceful eviction of refugees, could it lead to more radicalization?

  8. Ruth Wacuka

    I also think that the United Nation should have regard to the rights of the citizens of a hosting state. In as much as we want to protect the rights of the refugees some of them take advantage of the same to plan attacks on the country. I believe the right to non_refoulment should be balanced with the right to security of the hosting state.

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