Don't refuse refugees, Kenya told

2010-11-03 15:17

Geneva - The UN refugee agency made an urgent appeal to Kenya Wednesday not to turn back Somalis fleeing across the border from fighting between a pro-government militia and Islamist Shabaab fighters.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Kenyan authorities had ordered more than 8 000 Somalis housed in a camp at Mandera in northeast Kenya to go back across the border.

"UNHCR, in its advice to governments, has made clear that people fleeing central and southern Somalia are at substantial risk and that their international protection needs must be respected," a statement said.

The population at the camp mainly comprises children, women, and the elderly, all of whom have fled recent fighting between the Shabaab rebel group and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa forces in the Somali town of Bulohawo Hawa, the UNHCR said.

The camp, known as Border Point One, lies 500 metres inside Kenya, and some of the refugees had gone back towards Somalia and were now in no man's land between the two borders, the UNHCR said.

"Kenya has for many years been generous host to many thousands of Somali refugees," the statement said.

"To be forcibly returning people to Somalia now betrays that spirit, places lives at risk, and contravenes the principles of non-refoulement - or no forced return - that are contained in Kenya’s Constitution, its Refugees Act, and in international refugee law.

"We urge Kenya’s government to urgently halt further returns and allow those in no-man’s land to come back."

A UNHCR spokesperson said last week that about 60 000 Somalis had fled heavy fighting for the control of Bulohawo.

Many of the 40 000 displaced inside Somalia were living under trees or in the open without water, food or sanitation, while heavy rain has hit the area increasing the risk of disease, Andre Mahecic told journalists.