NAIROBI — The United States will provide an extra $45 million for the United Nations to help an overwhelmed Kenya cope with 600,000 refugees fleeing civil unrest, terrorism and violence in Somalia and South Sudan, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday.
After meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kerry said he was confident that Kenya would not close the world’s largest refugee camp, now home to 350,000 Somalis. The government had threatened to dismantle the Dadaab camp complex — consisting of five camps near the border with Somalia — because it suspects that the militant group al-Shabab has planned attacks from the camp, including one last month at Garissa University College in which 147 people were slaughtered.
Authorities have provided no evidence to support that claim.
The United States has opposed dismantling the camps, which could leave many refugees with little choice but to return to the dangerous conditions they fled.
Only a small fraction of the camp’s refugees have agreed to return through a U.N. voluntary repatriation program. The United Nations set up the first camps at Dadaab in 1991, and many who live in the sprawling complex are teenagers and children who have never been to the countries their parents fled.
Kenyatta “made clear Kenya has a great tradition of hosting refugees, and that the key is to accelerate efforts to have a plan in place for the ability of the people in not just Dadaab but in all the refugee camps to be able to return home, in an orderly and voluntary manner, with dignity and with safety,” Kerry said. “That’s his goal. That’s our goal.”
The funding announced Monday brings Washington’s refugee aid to Kenya to $289 million in the past two years. The U.S. military footprint in the region is growing, too, with drone strikes against al-Shabab in Somalia , largely from a military hub in Djibouti that Kerry will visit later in the week. This year, he said, the United States will spend $100 million on anti-terrorism efforts in Kenya.
Speaking at a news conference after a day of meetings with government officials and opposition figures, Kerry also said that the United States would commit $5 million to finance a court in South Sudan “to hold perpetrators of violence to account.” He blamed the war raging there since 2013 on a lack of leadership, and he urged President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to “silence the guns.”
Kerry’s trip to Kenya, the first by a senior U.S. official since 2012, effectively ends a year of estrangement between Washington and Nairobi after the International Criminal Court charged Kenyatta with crimes against humanity over post-election violence in 2007 and 2008. The charges were dropped late last year.
Kerry also paid an emotional visit to the site of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. As dozens of survivors and their families watched, he laid a wreath in front of a granite memorial wall bearing the names of the 218 people who died when suicide bombers detonated a truck in front of the embassy.
“The terrorists who struck on Aug. 7, 1998, failed utterly in their purpose, which was to implant fear in the hearts of the Kenyan people and divide America from the citizens of this country,” Kerry said.
“They failed for the same reason that terrorists will always fail. Yes, they can reduce a building to rubble, and yes, they can even deprive innocent people of their lives. But they do not give anyone anything that really makes life worthwhile: a sense of community, of looking out for one another, of creating something valuable and new, of living in dignity and honor.”
Kerry declined to comment specifically about anti-gay remarks reportedly made by Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto.
According to an online video posted by the Kenyan broadcaster KTN, Ruto told a Nairobi church congregation in Swahili, “The Republic of Kenya is a republic that worships God. We have no room for gays.”
Kerry said he had not read Ruto’s remarks but that gay rights are human rights, at least in the United States.
“The United States believes that all people are created equal, that all people have rights, and that includes people of every faith, every gender and every choice of partner. No matter who you love or who you are in your life, you have all the rights of every other human being. That is our position in the United States, and we will never, ever waver in that position,” he said.
Kerry looked and sounded tired, a day after arriving from a two-day visit to Sri Lanka. Jet lag and a packed schedule discussing issues of war and peace may explain his rare joke during the news conference.
When a Kenyan reporter asked him why he loves Kenya, Kerry replied quickly, “President Obama makes me love Kenya.” He paused, then added, “No, I’m just joking.”
Kevin Sieff contributed to this report.