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Human Rights Watch Urges Protection of Somali Refugees In Kenya


Human Rights Watch says the fighting in Somalia is causing a sharp rise in the number of people seeking refuge in Kenya. As VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington, the humanitarian group is calling on Kenya's government, foreign donors and the United Nations to vastly increase their response to the crisis.

Human Rights Watch says more than 65,000 Somali refugees will have fled to Kenya this year, up from 19,000 last year. A Human Rights Watch investigation in the Dadaab refugee camp in October shows the Somalis there are not receiving the help they need, and are often being abused, according to researcher Gerry Simpson.

"We have testimony from refugees who say that they have been detained in police stations inside the camps and in towns around the camps, where they were beaten, held in appalling conditions and deported back to Somalia when they were not able to pay bribes," said Gerry Simpson.

Kenya officially closed its border with Somalia in January 2007, when Ethiopian troops intervened in support of Somalia's weak transitional government.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says the border closure has forced tens of thousands of refugees to use smuggling networks to cross into Kenya. Because of the closure, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees closed its transit center, where refugees were registered and given health checks before being taken to the camps. Simpson says that caused the U.N. to surrender control of the situation, and led to chaos for the refugees.

"Thousands of refugees [are] not registered," he said. "That means they do not have access to food, which means, in combination with the fact that they do not have access to shelter and land, they are now in a desperate, emergency-like situation where they have to beg for food, water and shelter from other fellow impoverished refugees."

Somalia's government has been squabbling over formation of a new cabinet. President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein were in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa on Thursday, discussing their situation with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Meanwhile, Islamist militants have been making gains in Somalia, imposing strict Islamic law, called Sharia, in the port towns they seized this week. U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood says Washington is worried about the situation, but will support the government.

"The Islamic forces have been carrying out attacks throughout Somalia," said Robert Wood. "It's of great concern to us. We are obviously providing as much support as we can to the transitional national government. And we're going to be working with our allies to help that situation. But again, you've got these terrorists who are just...all they want to do is carry out death and destruction in the country. Somalia has suffered enough.

Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, says the U.S. and other donor countries have not done enough to ease the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.

"It has been an embarrassment, it has been an indictment of, in some ways a reflection of the failure of policy of the international community in Somalia, and there have been, at times, political efforts to downplay the extent of this crisis, which I think at this point is pretty clearly the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," said Ken Menkhaus.

Menkhaus says, however, if Ethiopia withdraws its forces and if a peace can be brokered among the Somali factions, there could be a huge wave of Somalis returning to Mogadishu. In the meantime, the fighting continues in Somalia, and the refugee crisis continues to worsen in Kenya.

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