Kenya wants to return Somali refugees to their home country
By Raluca Besliu
Kenya has tightened its decision to control the growing number of Somali refugees living on its territory, by calling for their return to their home country.
After discussions with his Somalian counterpart, Kenyan President Kibaki recently stated that there is no dignity in living in refugee camps and that he would prefer the thousands of people living in Dadaab camp to return to Somalia. Kibaki further mentioned that the two governments intended to collaborate to ensure that the refugees can return and asked the international community to support this decision.
The international community should undoubtedly show even more outrage over this radical solution than it did when the Kenyan Department of Refugees Affairs recently announced it would ban refugees from registering in urban areas and ordered that all Somali refugees and asylum seekers report to the Dadaab camps near the border with Somalia. The Department further declared that aid would no longer be delivered to refugees living in urban areas. This would deprive around 30,000 Somalis in Nairobi alone of access to any type of assistance.
The government’s decision came after a wave of bombings, shootings and hand grenade attacks, believed to have been caused by al-Shabab Somali militants, who have promised to take revenge over Kenya’s decision last year to sent troops in Somalia to assisting the UN-backed government occupy territory from the militants.
In November 2012, street battles erupted between Kenyans and ethnic Somalis in Eastleigh, a part of the Nairobi community dubbed “Little Mogadishu” because of its significant Somali population, after a bomb attack on a minibus killed seven people. Just days after two separate strikes hit Eastleigh last week, a grenade attack occurred.
Amnesty International (AI) dismissed the Kenyan government’s decision to send the refugees in the Dadaab camp complex as an unlawful and discriminatory restriction on freedom of movement. The organization called on the Kenyan government to rescind the decision and urged the authorities to resume registration and service provision in urban areas.
AI also highlighted that the Dadaab camp complex is already overcrowded without the additional refugee influx and constrained on the supply of essential services, including shelter, water and sanitation. Prior to the government’s decision, the Dadaab camp already hosted around 450,000 people, which is about five times the intended capacity when the facility was constructed 20 years ago.
Conditions in Somalia remain precarious. Islamist insurgents continue their attacks, led by al-Shabaab, which declared a formal alliance with Al-Qaeda in 2010. The crisis in Somalia was exacerbated in 2011 by the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in six decades, which together with the absence of security and a functioning government created a humanitarian emergency. According to the UN, four million people were affected in Somalia, including three million in the parts of the south controlled by the Shabaab.
Sending the Somali refugees back is forcing them to would amount to refouling them, as it imposes on the a return to intolerable and life-threatening conditions and exposes them to substantial risk, which goes against Kenya’s obligations as a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention. Kenya must cease scapegoating a significant refugee population for the criminal actions of a few extremists. This is not the first time that Kenya has forcibly returned Somali refugees to their home country. In 2009, the UNHCR intervened to halt the return of more than 8000 refugees from Dadaab, which had been ordered by local authorities. Surely, the refugees have imposed significant economic, social and security strains on their host country that the international community should acknowledge. While vehemently opposing the refugees’ refoulement to Somalia, the international community should also help Kenya in overcoming them, not only through financial assistance, but especially through refugee burden-sharing, by providing resettlement alternatives for the refugees.