Kenya has banned movement in and out of two huge refugee camps with effect from Wednesday, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said the restrictions apply to the Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya, home to 217,000 people, and the Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya, home to 190,000 people.
“The government has ordered for the cessation of movement into and out of both Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps effective … Wednesday, April 29, 2020,” Matiangi wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Kenya, which has recorded 384 cases of coronavirus since March 13, has yet to report any cases in the two camps, which house refugees from Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia — some of whom have lived there for almost two decades.
However humanitarian organisations say an outbreak in the crowded camps would be catastrophic.
In Dadaab, “a possible outbreak of the coronavirus would be a disaster with a quarantine capacity for only 2,000 people in place and only one dedicated COVID-19 health facility including 110 beds for more than 270,000 people,” Philippa Crosland-Taylor of Geneva-based organisation CARE said on Twitter.
CARE’s figure of 270,000 includes undocumented refugees and people living in host communities.
Kenya has not imposed a full lockdown, but has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and similarly blocked movement in and out of Nairobi, three coastal towns, and the north-eastern county of Mandera.
UN refugee agency spokeswoman Eujin Byun told AFP the new restrictions would not mean a “significant change” for the refugees.
She said the issuance of movement passes allowing them to travel out of the area have been halted since the end of March.
However host communities are now also blocked from leaving the area, and movement into the area is restricted.
Humanitarian movement will be allowed on a “case by case” basis, and aid and vital cargo will still be allowed into the area.