Tag Archives: Somalia

The Dadaab saga continues: not-so-voluntary repatriation and no support

(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.

Stay tuned!

Gallery: 25 years of Dadaab

 

Kenya: High Court to hear petition against closure of Dadaab refugee camp

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.

 

 

Refugee Returns from Kenya to Somalia: “This is About Fear… Not About Choice”

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.

 

Somali Refugees Decry Empty Promises Upon Return From Dadaab Camp

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

Kenya: Dadaab Crisis – Refugees’ Fears Are Real, Says MSF

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.

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Govt rejects MSF report on Dadaab refugees

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.

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From Dadaab to Despair: what now for this so-called “voluntary” return to Somalia

Did you know that the third-largest city in Kenya is a refugee camp? Did you know that some of the the residents of that camp have been there for three generations?  Did you know that now they are going “home”, a place most of them have only heard of, whether they like it or not?

Welcome to the largest refugee camp in the world: Daadab, a place where  1,000 babies are born every month, but only 2,000 leave each year. Dadaab was built in 1992 for 90,000 refugees fleeing the war in Somalia. Today it is home to an estimated half a million people, 350,000 of them registered refugees“an urban area the size of Bristol, Zurich or New Orleans.” It is now considered the largest refugee camp in the world.

Conditions are difficult at best: “The residents cannot work and cannot leave. Permanent structures are forbidden: there must be no bricks, no concrete, no power lines; no proper roads, no sanitation, no drainage and no toilets.The half a million inmates use pit latrines for toilets, and there is a shortage of 35,000.”

But the camp should not be seen only as a burden on Kenyan society: despite Kenya’s strict encampment policy, a report commissioned by the governments of Norway, Denmark and Kenya in 2010 found that the camps’ businesses generated an annual turnover of $25m (£17.5m). The host community earned $1.8m from the sale of livestock alone to refugees.And the camp itself has its own economy and elections, where “these days, in the market, you can buy everything from an iPhone to an ice-cream.” Nevertheless, the government resists any constructions that “looked too much like real houses”, and it has torn down illegal power lines; refugees are not allowed to work, even if they manage to obtain diplomas.

Despite strong reasons why Kenya may wish to consider local integration, in reality few durable solutions are available, as Kenya does not allow local integration in any meaningful sense, and with extremely limited resettlement opportunities – only 43,000 departures of Somalis from Kenya since 2003 – refugees in Dadaab are essentially trapped if they are unwilling to return to Somalia.

The end of an era?

And now, after 25 years, Dadaab may close.

In 2013, Kenya, Somalia and the refugee agency UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement which would have facilitated refugees voluntarily move to Somalia followed by a pilot programme in 2014-2015 in which around 2,500 people returned to Somalia. As UNHCR describes it,

On 2 April 2015, Al-Shabaab militants launched an attack on the University College of Garissa in Kenya, killing 148 Kenyan students. In the aftermath of the attack, the political leaders of Kenya’s North Eastern Region called for the closure of the Dadaab camps, and a number of senior Government officials called for UNHCR to repatriate all Somali refugees in Dadaab to Somalia. However, after a series of démarches reaffirming the voluntariness of the repatriation process, Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR jointly reaffirmed their commitment to a coordinated and humane return process in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement. To this end, the Tripartite Commission was formally launched on 21 April 2015 to oversee the implementation of the Agreement

In May 2016, the Kenyan government announced plans to speed up the repatriation of Somali refugees and close the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya by November. Kenyan authorities, with officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), then stepped up a 2013 “voluntary” repatriation program.

Defining the terms: “voluntary repatriation”

Voluntary repatriation is defined as the “return in safety and in dignity to the country of origin” and re-availment of national protection. In order for the return to be voluntary, refugees must be genuinely free choice about whether to return and be fully informed about conditions in their home country

According to Human Rights Watch, returns under the ongoing program amount to refoulement, because they are neither voluntary nor fully informed decisions:

Refugees said the government’s decision to close the Dadaab camp had left them feeling trapped. They are afraid to return to Somalia, but also afraid of being arrested and deported if they stay in Dadaab until the November deadline. Many have therefore chosen to take US$400 in cash as part of a UNHCR-returns assistance package because they believe that if they don’t, they will be summarily deported later this year with nothing.

HRW alleges that the Kenyan authorities are insisting on closing the camp, irrespective of whether any refugees wish to stay, are cutting rations in an effort to encourage or force refugees to opt for the repatriation “package” which includes $400 and 3 months’ food rations, and are not being honest about the situation in Somalia. HRW also pointed out that UNHCR’s information regarding Somalia is not correct, or is at odds with other information published by UNHCR:

UNHCR-Somalia officials acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that their assessments indicate that conditions in south-central Somalia are not conducive to mass refugee returns in safety and dignity. UNHCR’s latest assessment in May found: “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement.”

The information that UNHCR provides to refugees in Dadaab seeking to make an informed choice about returning, however, is mostly superficial and out of date, and sometimes misleading, Human Rights Watch said.

UNHCR “shares some of the concerns” recently raised by Human Rights Watch but did not specifically endorse the allegations.

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Returns: but where to?

In August 2016, Kenya decided to “hold back its decision to close Daadab camp until peace in Somalia is restored,”  and although refugee verification exercise is complete, the process of repatriation may take longer given the security situation in Somalia.

Also in August, “Authorities in southern Somalia say they have blocked Somali refugees returning from Kenya because the refugees do not get the humanitarian support they need once they reach major cities.” Returnees are given a cash grant and transportation, but they are returning to areas where adequate shelter, food, and water do not exist, not to mention educational and medical facilities already overstretched with IDPs sheltering in those areas.

Following HRW’s allegations in September 2016 that Kenya is harassing and intimidating Somali refugees to return home when it is not safe to do so, Kenya rejected the allegations nevertheless reaffirmed on Thursday its plan to close the camp by November.

As a recent op-ed described it,

“It is impossible to call what is happening “voluntary” by any definition of the word. Yet both Kenya and UNHCR persist in doing so. This is a betrayal of the refugees and a dangerous precedent. Now, other countries in the region want their own tripartite agreement. Kenya has shown how to push UNHCR into a corner and close a refugee camp in the absence of any of the normal criteria for doing so. Europe and the United States, having abrogated any moral high ground on protecting refugees, are easily shamed by Kenya into pledging money toward the returns process, lending weight and momentum to the farce.”

 

 Read the full HRW report: Kenya: Involuntary Refugee Returns to Somalia:  Camp Closure Threat Triggers Thousands Returning to Danger, Human Rights Watch, 14 September 2016.

 

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