Kenya coercing refugees to return to Somalia, HRW claims

Thursday September 15 2016

Tents  in Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex on

Tents in Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex on July 24, 2011. AFP PHOTO | PHIL MOORE 

By STELLA CHERONO
More by this Author
By JACKY HABIB
More by this Author

Kenya is coercing Somali refugees to move out of the Dadaab Camp against their will in a repatriation process that ‘does not meet international standards’, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed

The organisation said the refugees are threatened and intimidated by Kenyan security forces and other authorities.

HRW said refugees are threatened that they would forfeit a Sh40,000 United Nations grant if they were to be deported after expiry of the November deadline.

The organisation made the claim even as the United Nations refugee agency denied that Kenyan authorities are pressuring Somalis to leave the Dadaab.

Last month, the spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Nairobi Duke Mwencha said Somali in Dadaab are not being coerced into leaving the camps.

“Those claims are not accurate. We have not seen this. In fact, the Kenyan government has been working more closely with us,” said Mr Mwencha in reply to claims of forceful repatriation by Voice of America.

HRW also accused the UN refugee agency of not telling the refugees the truth about the real security situation in Somalia.

“The 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits refoulement- the return of refugees in any manner whatsoever, to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened,” HRW stated in the report titled ‘Involuntary Refugee Returns to Somalia’.

“The Kenyan authorities are not giving Somali refugees a real choice between staying and leaving, and the UN refugee agency isn’t giving people accurate information about security conditions in Somalia.

There is no way these returns can be considered voluntary,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch.

ASYLUM

The organisation stated that some of the Somalis who agreed to return to Somalia after spending years as refugees in Dadaab have returned to Kenya a second time because of ongoing violence and lack of basic services in Somalia.

“Newly arrived Somali asylum seekers and refugees who were not able to re-establish themselves in Somalia are being denied access to refugee registration or asylum procedures in Dadaab, leaving them with no legal status and food rations,” the report stated.

Africa researcher at HRW, Otsieno Namwaya warned of an impending humanitarian crisis as over 263,000 Somali refugees are meant to be repatriated in only two months.

“By compelling these refugees to return to the conflict zone, the government exposes them to desperation and this could work to the advantage of terror group Al- Shabaab, who may want to recruit them,”

Mr Namwaya said, adding that there was no evidence linking the registered refugees at Dadaab to Al Shabaab.

He said already, 24 refugees who attempted to go back to their country, returned to Kenya after Al-Shabaab attempted to forcefully recruit them.

“This situation could increase radicalization and it will make it worse for Kenya and other African countries who are already reeling from the effects of terrorism,” Mr Namwaya added.

HRW Africa Division Researcher, Laetitia Bader said Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR had signed an agreement in November 2013 on the voluntary repatriation of refugees.

The agreement states that the two countries and the UN would make sure that Somalis return voluntarily and safely and would get help to resettle back home.

The release of the HRW report comes just a few days before the UN General Assembly Summit in New York, where Kenya and Somalia will be put forward as good case studies. The summit will begin on September 19.

Kenya announced in May this year that it would close down the Dadaab refugee camp, which was set up in 1991, saying that the camp had been hosting terrorists.