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Kenyan Foreign Minister Rejects Criticism Over Somali Refugees


Kenya's foreign affairs minister is rejecting criticism from the U.N. refugee agency and others that Kenya violated international law by sending people back into Somalia amidst reports of fighting. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Raphael Tuju told reporters in Nairobi it is wrong to say Kenya has illegally and inhumanely mistreated Somalis who managed to cross the border into Kenya.

He says Kenya has a strong record in dealing with refugees from Somalia, taking in as many as 2,500 a day during the height of past unrest. Kenya already hosts 160,000 registered Somali refugees.

But this time, Tuju says, many of the Somalis who made it to a Kenyan reception center are likely not genuine refugees.

"We have established that some of the combatants are sending their families to pose as refugees while they stay in Somalia," he said. "This is with the intention probably of using Kenya as a safe haven for their families while they destabilize the lawful government of Somalia. It is apparent that some of these so-called asylum seekers are combatants on the run. Kenya will not allow combatants and their families to use this country as a base."

About 400 refugees who presented themselves Wednesday at a refugee reception center in the Kenyan town of Liboi were loaded into trucks by Kenyan police and returned to Somalia. Police also barred the Kenya Red Cross from entering the reception center.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released a statement Wednesday criticizing the Kenyan government for the deportations, saying that Kenya had a humanitarian obligation to assist women and children and not send them back to an uncertain and volatile situation.

The statement said Kenya's actions violate the 1951 Refugee Convention, and an offer by the U.N. refugee agency to provide immediate expertise and support to deal with the new arrivals was not followed up by Kenya.

Foreign Minister Tuju says it is not necessary to admit Somalis into Kenya because the war is over in Somalia.

"All the information that we have confirm unequivocally that there is no armed conflict in Mogadishu, Kismayo, or even Dhobley, and in fact there does not exist any state of anarchy and violence as alleged by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees," he added.

Tuju says the U.N. refugee agency should stop lecturing Kenya and instead carry out an investigation of the Somali situation and encourage European and North American countries to take in more Somali refugees.

The Kenyan foreign minister said the border has been closed because of security concerns.

The fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and fighters of the Islamic Courts Union was sparked more than two weeks ago by the passing of a deadline the Islamists set for Ethiopian troops to leave Somalia.

Earlier this year, the Islamic Courts Union seized control of the capital and other areas before reaching a truce with the government.

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