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Kenya’s Dadaab shut down puts Somali refugees at risk: rights groups

Forcing them to go back to face violence or persecution would be inhumane and a violation of Kenya’s legal obligations

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Photo Credit: Amnesty International

A quarter of a million Somali refugees face violence back home if Kenya continues with plans to shut the vast Dadaab camp, rights groups warned Thursday.

Kenya has submitted plans to shut the camp complex located in the east of the country near Somali border by August, according to internal UN documents.

“Many Somali refugees are themselves victims of violence, from which they fled to seek protection,” said Otsieno Namwaya from Human Rights Watch, adding that the plan “threatens the rights and safety” of the people.

“Forcing them to go back to face violence or persecution would be inhumane and a violation of Kenya’s legal obligations,” Namwaya added.

Amnesty International said Kenya should look for solutions, including integration into Kenyan society and resettlement to third countries.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a document seen by AFP it was committed to working with the government on voluntary repatriation to countries of origin, relocating refugees to other parts of Kenya and resettlement to third countries.

A Kenyan foreign ministry official confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity that government had sent a note to the UNHCR advising them of the closure of the camp, but would not discuss the matter further.

“Kenya courts a humanitarian disaster and international criticism if it intends to forcibly return hundreds of thousands of refugees to Somalia without proper consultation, planning and regard for their safety,” Kenya’s Amnesty chief Irungu Houghton said.

Dadaab is home to some 230,000 people. The vast majority of them are Somalis who fled civil war in 1991. Many have lived there ever since.

For many years Dadaab was the world’s largest refugee camp — with once as many as 580,000 residents — although it is now far smaller and dwarfed in size by Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, home to some 600,000 people fleeing Myanmar.

Kenya, which sent troops into Somalia in 2011 following a spate of kidnappings by Somali-led Al-Shabaab insurgents, claims the camp is a security risk. Kenya’s military remains in Somalia, prompting revenge attacks by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab in Kenya.

Kenya has moved to shut the camp before.

In May 2016, Kenya decided to close the camp, and tens of thousands of refugees returned to Somalia under a repatriation package.

However, many encountered drought, hunger and dire conditions in a country destroyed by decades of conflict, where five million lack enough food, and where war continues.

A year later, Kenya’s High Court ruled the plan to close the camp was unconstitutional.

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Egypt’s renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry

Mnay have faulted repair works as being misrepresentative of the building’s history and materials to be of poor quality

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Egypt's renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry
Ongoing restoration works at the historic "Le Palais Hindou" (also known as the "Baron Empain Palace") built by in the early 20th century by Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, in the classical Khmer architectural style of Cambodia's Angkor Wat, in the Egyptian capital Cairo's northeastern Heliopolis district. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Egyptian authorities have defended renovation works at a historic Cairo palace after the site’s new look sparked mockery on social media.

The site, dubbed the Baron Palace, was built between 1907 and 1911 by wealthy Belgian industrialist Edouard Empain. 

The baron also spearheaded the development of the surrounding upmarket neighbourhood of Heliopolis.

Built in a style reminiscent of the Cambodian Hindu temple of Angkor Wat, the striking building set amid lush gardens has long since fallen into disrepair.

READ: Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs

But work to restore the building has sparked outcry.

Many have taken issue with white marble additions to the building’s rosy pink stone exterior, saying the materials are of poor quality and not in keeping with the original style.

One Twitter user asked:

“Who is the fool behind the restoration of Egypt’s palaces? Our heritage is being systematically destroyed.”

A Facebook page called Egyptian Historians chided officials for the “warped” restoration.

Egypt's renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry
Ongoing restoration works at the historic “Le Palais Hindou” (also known as the “Baron Empain Palace”) built by in the early 20th century by Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, in the classical Khmer architectural style of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, in the Egyptian capital Cairo’s northeastern Heliopolis district. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

“Be honest with yourselves and admit that you ruined it… you are literally demolishing our monument”, a post on the group’s page said.

READ: Tutankhamun gilded coffin receives restoration in Egypt

Antiquities Minister, Khaled El-Enany dismissed online criticisms as “fake news”.

“I didn’t hear one word of truth in all these social media comments,” he said in a statement.

His ministry said the colours of the palace had faded from weather damage over many years.

“The restoration is a real dream and we will breathe life into this abandoned landmark,” Enany added.

WATCH: Egypt begins restoration of Tutankhamun’s coffin

General Hisham Samir, who heads up the ministry’s engineering branch, said the colours were “correct and are backed up by historical sources.”

The works began in July 2017 in co-operation with the Belgian government and will cost 100 million Egyptian pounds (over $6 million), the statement added.

Samir told reporters that the work is expected to be completed by year’s end with plans to open the building to the public by early 2020.

Egypt’s multitude of historical monuments and buildings are a major draw for tourists, though the country has often faced accusations of neglecting these sites.

READ: Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

The government has recently launched various restoration projects to stimulate tourism, a key sector that has suffered in recent years due to political insecurity and sporadic jihadist attacks.

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Central Africa News

Measles is a bigger threat in DR Congo than Ebola – NGO

Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization

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Measles has killed 2,758 people in DR Congo since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year, medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said, and called Saturday for a “massive mobilisation of funds.”

The disease, preventable with a vaccine, has infected over 145,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo between January and early August, it said in a statement.

“Since July, the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces,” said the NGO that goes by its French acronym MSF.

“Only $2.5 million has been raised out of the $8.9 million required for the Health Cluster response plan  — in stark contrast with the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country, which attracts multiple organisations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding,” it added.

MSF tweeted that without a “massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, the current measles outbreak in #DRCongo could get even worse.”

The NGO said it has vaccinated 474,860 children between the ages of six months and five years since the beginning of the year and provided care to more than 27,000 measles patients.

In the country’s east, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.

Measles is a highly-contagious diseased caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.

Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization, amid a rise in “anti-vaxxer” sentiment in some countries that can afford the vaccine, and lagging resources for the preventative measure in poor nations.

DR Congo declared a measles epidemic in June.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb

Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Libyan firefighters extinguish a fire at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on August 10, 2019. - "Two members of the UN mission, one them a foreigner, were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb" in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said. (Photo by - / AFP)

A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.

“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.

An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.

Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.

But bombings and kidnappings have continued.

A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.

A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.

Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”. 

On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. 

The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.

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