(Photo Ashley Hamer, Al Jazeera)
Since our last post on Daadab, there have been a few updates:
- Most Somalis do not want to return
- UNHCR and Kenya claims they do and Kenya is trying to send them anyways
- There is little to no support for those who decide to return
- The return and closure of Dadaab has been highly criticized by organisations such as MSF and Amnesty
- The Kenyan High Court will hear a petition on the closure on Nov 7.
The petition, filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Kituo Cha Sheria, seeks to have the government’s closure decisions declared unconstitutional.
“The closure of Dadaab would be a disaster for the tens of thousands of refugees still living there who have nowhere else to go. Their repatriation back to Somalia is not voluntary – they are being forced to return when the conditions that forced them to flee in the first place have not improved,” said Michelle Kagari, deputy director of Amnesty International’s East Africa regional office.
“We hope that this court action will prompt the Kenyan authorities to reconsider their decision, and uphold their international obligations to protect refugees.”
The Kenyan government announced on 6 May that it was disbanding the Department of Refugee Affairs with immediate effect, and would close the camp on 30 November 2016, repatriating the more than 260,000 Somali refugees there to Somalia despite the immense risks they would face.
The Kenyan government’s threat to close the Dadaab refugee camp by the end of November would not only endanger the lives of several hundred thousand Somali refugees but has already caused irreparable harm and damage.
With no alternative options, some refugees have been coerced into repatriating to Somalia, where insecurity and an ongoing humanitarian crisis continue. The United Nations Refugee Agency’s focus on expediting the pace of returns – through a program that is supported by donors and implemented in partnership with non-governmental organizations – in the face of political pressure from Kenya, promotes large-scale returns that are unlikely to be sustainable. Development and reintegration initiatives in designated areas of return in Somalia need time to take hold; and, in the meantime, support for Somali refugees who remain in Kenya cannot be abandoned.
The majority of the returnees are women, children, the elderly and the disabled – “the most vulnerable sectors of society,” according to The American Refugee Committee, an aid group providing some health care and child protection in the camps.
Yet there is very limited health care for the returnees living in the camps, and medical care in Kismayo town is expensive. The camps have few decent running water sources or latrines, leaving thousands of people at risk of disease.
Families arriving in Kismayo discover a fragile town with little infrastructure that cannot provide basic food and shelter, let alone facilitate their resettlement in Somalia.
Refugees stranded in Somalia after Kenya eviction: Somalis are returning to Kismayo in a “voluntary” process to a homeland still stricken by war, drought, and hardship.
He said he felt forced to return to Somalia because of food and healthcare cuts in Dadaab last year, and because of threats from the Kenyan authorities, he told Al Jazeera, seated on a plastic chair in the sand, a crowd of fellow returnees gathering around him.
Abukar knew the situation in Kismayo would be worse than Dadaab. He suspected there would be scant help for the returnees and he knew his country was still at war.
Nevertheless, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has spent much of 2016 trucking and flying thousands of Somalis back into their country as part of a “voluntary repatriation” agreement between that organisation, the Kenyan government, and the fledgling federal government of Somalia.
Between December 2014, a year after the repatriation agreement was reached, and September 2016, a total of 30,731 Somali refugees from Dadaab went through the voluntary return process, according to UNHCR statistics.
In early September, however, Jubaland state authorities called a halt to the returns process.
“We are overwhelmed … The returning of these refugees [from Dadaab] is neither safe, secure and definitely not dignified,” said Adam Ibrahim Aw Hirsi, Jubaland state’s justice minister.
“Families of five or six are living outside with their children, there are no schools, there is no food, not even basic hygiene like drinkable water, no toilets. Some are sick, some elderly and some are very young.”
Hirsi said the returnees are being misled by UNHCR and Somalia’s federal government with false promises of support to start a new life, when in reality little has been prepared for their sustainable resettlement and Jubaland is not ready to receive them.
Humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called on the Kenyan government and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) to urgently consider alternative arrangements, as the closure of the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, draws near.
This came as a report released by the group recently, revealed that at least eight out of 10 refugees indicated that they did not want to return to their home states, citing among other concerns, forced recruitment, sexual violence and lack of healthcare as their main concerns.
“This decision is yet another blight on refugee protection globally, where again we see a total failure to provide safe haven for people in danger. The UN itself has recently declared that five million people are at risk of hunger inside Somalia. Sending back even more people to suffer is both inhumane and irresponsible,” says Bruno Jochum, MSF General Director.
The government has repudiated a report by medical charity group MSF that claimed 86 per cent of refugees at Dadaab do not want to leave. Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said there are “serious doubts” about the figures because UN refugee agency UNHCR itself has found that most want to go back home.
“UNHCR has found many refugees are willing to leave. We are just constrained by lack of funding and that is why the repatriation has been slow.
“These findings are part of these organisation’s self-interests to continue having a presence in Dadaab and earn big salaries….,” he said.
But the medical charity group, which runs a hospital at the camp, on Friday defended its findings saying they were within the range of reports by UNHCR which had previously stated that just a quarter of the refugee population were ready to return.