DADAAB, Kenya — Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was spending her 19th birthday on Tuesday visiting the world's largest refugee camp to draw attention to the global refugee crisis, especially as Dadaab camp faces pressure to close after a quarter-century.
Since last year, Malala has been in contact via Skype with a group of girls in Dadaab and was looking forward to meeting them and others, said Taylor Royle, her spokesman.
"I am here to speak for my unheard sisters of Somalia striving for education every day," Malala said Tuesday, explaining that on each birthday she chooses a region where girls' education is neglected and needs attention.
Kenya's government says Dadaab camp, which hosts more than 300,000 mostly Somali refugees, will be closed in the next year because it has become a security liability. The camp is in eastern Kenya, near its border with Somalia.
The possibility that the camp will be closed brings yet more uncertainty to the refugees, who face the prospect of returning to a Somalia still plagued with conflict. Kenya insists any returns will be voluntary, even as the international community has urged caution and warned against forceful evictions.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has said repatriations from Dadaab will be done in a humane way.
Many of Dadaab's refugees have lived most if not all their lives in the sprawling camp, which has been open for 25 years and is a vast settlement of established homes and newcomers' improvised huts of thorn branches and other materials.
Malala was expected to be asked about the fate of Dadaab during her visit. She won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize after militants shot her in 2012 while she was returning home from school in Pakistan, where she was an outspoken advocate for girls' education in a highly conservative culture. She now lives in Britain with her family.
The Kenyan government claims that attacks on Kenya by the Somali extremist group al-Shabab were planned and facilitated in Dadaab camp. Al-Shabab has carried out numerous attacks in Kenya that have killed scores since 2011, when Kenya deployed troops to Somalia against the militants. The Kenyan troops are now part of an African Union peacekeeping force there.
Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, has vowed to continue attacking Kenya.