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Amnesty International Condemns Kenya’s Forced Return of Somali Refugees

  • Joe DeCapua

Amnesty International is accusing Kenyan authorities of abusing Somali refugees and violating their human rights.

Although Kenya closed its border with Somalia in December 2006, Somalis continue to enter the country. Many are fleeing violence and abuse in their own country. However, Amnesty says the Somalis are being forcibly returned.

Amnesty researcher Benedict Goderiaux says, “Those who have fled armed conflict and serious human rights abuses find themselves unable to seek refuge and protection in Kenya.”

Sending them back

She says, “We are very, very concerned at the forcible return of Somalis to southern and central Somalia, which is in complete violation of international or human rights law and of Kenya’s refugee legislation.”

The report says, in November, about 8,000 refugees had fled to Kenya to escape fighting in the town of Belet Hawo. The border town was the scene of fighting between forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government and the Islamic militant group al Shabab.

“Parties to the conflict in Somalia fight in such an indiscriminate manner that any civilian who stays around them is at risk of being killed or injured. So, about 8,000 people fled to Kenya and they stayed close to the border,” she says.

The Amnesty spokesperson says a few days later, provincial authorities ordered their return to Somalia.

Goderiaux says, “3,000 of them were forced back in. And then a day later, the Kenyan police crossed the border into Somalia to push them even further just at the time when we didn’t know when combat would restart.”

The Amnesty International report also alleges Kenyan authorities have demanded bribes from refugees and made arbitrary arrests.

Border closing

The ongoing violence in Somalia resulted in the 2006 border closing. Despite that, Goderiaux says Kenya cannot turn asylum seekers away.

“No, it doesn’t have a right to prevent people seeking asylum from entering the country. We acknowledge that Kenya has legitimate security concerns regarding the activities of Somali armed groups, for instance, al Shabab. And it is true that since the border was closed al Shabab has expanded its control over territory in Somalia,” she says.

She says the right to seek asylum is a fundamental human right “enshrined” in Kenyan and international law “that people who are fleeing violence, persecution and abuse are able to find refuge and protection in another country.”

Kenya is home to the Dadaab refugee camp complex, which has been criticized for being extremely overcrowded with Somali refugees.

“First of all, the Dadaab camps should be expanded. There’s an agreement between the Kenyan authorities and the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, to allocate more land, to extend one of the camps and in the future build a fourth camp. But at the moment things are not progressing very quickly,” she says.

Goderiaux says, “We’re also asking the international community to step in much more and to help Kenya in sharing responsibility for this massive refugee crisis from Somalia. It is unfair that Kenya is shouldering the lion’s share of responsibility for these Somali refugees just because they are neighbors to Somalia.”

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