Kenya refugee return scheme flouts international law - HRW

2016-09-15 22:45
File: AP

File: AP

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Nairobi - As Kenya prepares to close the world's largest refugee camp, a rights watchdog said the repatriation of Somalis from Dadaab camp is based on fear and misinformation and violates international standards.

Human Rights Watch, which interviewed scores of people in the vast camp last month, said on Thursday that many Somalis are returning home involuntarily, only to face danger, persecution and hunger.

Kenya wants to close the vast camp in north-east Kenya by November, insisting it is a security threat and a drain on national resources. It currently houses some 263 000 Somali refugees.

"Many refugees ... say they have agreed to return home because they fear Kenya will force them out if they stay," said the HRW report after interviewing around 100 people at the camp.

Refugees spoke of intimidation by the Kenyan government, lack of information on ways of remaining or on conditions in Somalia, and fears of losing a $400 repatriation cash grant if they wind up being deported at the end of the year.

"The Kenyan authorities are not giving Somali refugees a real choice between staying and leaving, and the UN refugee agency isn't giving people accurate information about security conditions in Somalia," said HRW's refugee rights director Bill Frelick in a statement.

"There is no way these returns can be considered voluntary."

There was no immediate response from Kenya or the United Nations to the HRW concerns.

'Fear and misinformation' 

Kenya's repatriation programme, "fuelled by fear and misinformation, does not meet international standards for voluntary refugee return," set out in a 1951 international Refugee Convention, the rights group said.

Since sending troops into neighbouring Somalia in 2011, Kenya has come under repeated attack from Shabaab, East Africa's long-time branch of al-Qaeda, Islamic State's rivals.

Nairobi has taken a hardline position, claiming Dadaab acts as a terrorist training ground for Shabaab Islamists, and has publicly and repeatedly said all the Somali refugees would be removed from the country by the end of the year.

"The Kenyan government needs to make clear that Somalis who don't feel that they can go back to Somalia right now are still going to be welcome in Kenya," HRW researcher Laetitia Bader told AFP.

"They need to give Somali refugees an option," she said.

She added that the United Nations had a responsibility to provide reliable information to the refugees on what they were going back to at home.

"Right now they're not doing that," she said.

Just 24 000 refugees have taken up the offer of voluntary return since the programme began in December 2014, of whom 18 000 returned in 2016, including 10 000 after the announcement of the camp's closure.

The vast majority of residents of the sprawling Dadaab complex of camps close to the Kenya-Somalia border fled Somalia's more than two-decade-long conflict. Many remain fearful of returning to a country where insecurity remains rife.

Read more on:    hrw  |  al-shabaab  |  al-qaeda  |  kenya  |  somalia  |  refugees  |  east africa

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