NAIROBI: Kenya on Friday said Somali refugee camps were being used as a safe haven for Islamist militants and said the time had come for hundreds of thousands of refugees to go home.
The country's interior minister also said 15 immigration officers had been fired in connection with an ongoing tightening of national security after last month's attack on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, which killed at least 67 people.
"For many years, Kenya has been host to the largest refugee community in the world, we are host to almost 600,000 refugees. We have welcomed, with open arms, refugees fleeing from insecurity in neighbouring countries," Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters.
"Some of these refugees have abused our hospitality and kindness to plan and launch terror attacks from the safety of the refugee camps. This cannot and should not be allowed to continue," he added.
In the wake of the Westgate attack, several Kenyan officials pointed the finger at Dadaab, a Somali refugee camp in the northeast and home to over 400,000 people, as being a "training ground" for Somali extremists.
Lenku stopped short of supporting calls from some Kenyan lawmakers that the camp be immediately closed, but said Somalia was "now experiencing relative peace" and that Kenya was now "working closely with the government of Somali and UNHCR to ensure that the repatriation process is as smooth and humane as possible."
Lenku also said a purge was underway in the immigration service, with 15 officers fired for issuing "Kenyan identity documents to illegal immigrants thereby endangering national security".
"For the avoidance of doubt, let me be loud and clear, the purge that has started today will extend to many other government departments," he said.
"So all those who may have been part of the network facilitating the issuance of Kenyan identification documents to illegal immigrants who turn out to be criminals, I have only one message for you: your days are clearly numbered," he warned.
The minister also vowed a complete audit of all identity cards and passports issued in the last two years to "flush out those who have been issued with illegal passports and other identification documents."
Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was in revenge for Kenya military action against the group in southern Somalia.