All Peace Corps volunteers were pulled from Kenya Thursday because of security concerns. The organization and the U.S. State Department made the announcement, adding that more than 50 volunteers will be removed from the country until the threat level decreases.
The State Department released a statement to The Associated Press saying the Peace Corps “has been closely monitoring the security environment in Kenya… and has decided to officially suspend the program in Kenya.”
ABC News reports that the decision to suspend the program comes amid tightened security at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which has seen dozens of grenade and gunfire attacks in the past few years. The U.S. increased the number of security personnel at the embassy earlier this year and put armed Marines behind sandbag bunkers on the building’s roof.
The Peace Corps suspension in Kenya has been in the works for a while, but was not announced publicly before Thursday. The statements from the State Department and Peace Corps highlighted the long relationship between the U.S. and Kenya, as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. spends in Kenya each year.
However, given the assaults on the Embassy and the massive attack on Westgate Mall last year, the government felt its Peace Corps volunteers were vulnerable. The Washington Post notes that recent Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya reported feeling that the U.S. government program did a good job of keeping them updated about security, though they acknowledged that security in the country was diminishing.
Nik Schuetz, a volunteer in the country from 2009 to 2011 now studying at the University of Kansas, explained, “Some volunteers weren’t very pleased with the level of security they provided, but I’m not sure what they were expecting. We don’t have security guards to protect us, and it’s Kenya, so sometimes bad things happen regardless of any preventative measures.”
Schuetz added that the Peace Corps taught him to be smart about his surroundings and to “trust the hairs on the back of our necks to sense whether it was a safe situation.” The 28-year-old was initially assigned to a public health program in western Kenya, but was moved to another province after his belongings were stolen.
Thursday’s decision isn’t the first time Peace Corps volunteers have been pulled from a country for security concerns. The program pulled volunteers out of Nepal in 2004 and Kenya during the 2007-2008 election violence. The program was also suspended in Ukraine in April.
[Image by lovely sundries]