Amnesty International Calls for Protection of Somali Refugees in Kenya, Not Abuse
Posted on:Wed, Dec 8, 2010 at 10:34 PM
London: Thousands of Somali refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing to Kenya face terrible conditions and risks, their lives in jeopardy and their rights abused, Amnesty International said in a report issued today. “Continued fighting and horrendous abuses in Somalia pose a very real threat to the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men," said Michelle Kagari, deputy director of the Africa Program at Amnesty International. "No Somali should be forcibly returned to southern and central Somalia.” The report, “From Life Without Peace to Peace Without Life,”describes how thousands fleeing violence in Somalia are unable to find refuge, protection and lasting solutions in Kenya, due to the closure of the border between the two countries almost four years ago amid security concerns. Last month around 8,000 Somali refugees who had fled across the border into Kenya from the Somali town of Belet Hawo following intense fighting there, were ordered to return to Somalia by the Kenyan authorities. Moreover, Kenyan police then forced about 3,000 of them further into Somalia, where they continue to be at risk of grave human rights abuses.
“Many Somalis have no option but to cross into Kenya," said Kagari. "Kenya’s closure of the screening center near the border however means no Somali is registered immediately and that nobody is screened. Inevitably, this does nothing to address Kenya’s national security concerns.”
Following a surge in violence in December 2006, Kenya closed its 682 kilometer border (423 miles) with Somalia, maintaining that fighters with alleged links to al-Qaeda might otherwise enter Kenya and endanger national security.
However, because the border is porous, Somalis have continued to seek refuge in Kenya. The Kenyan authorities have turned a blind eye to the continuous flow of Somali asylum-seekers across the border, calling into question what impact, if any, the closure has had on the security situation.
In a meeting with Amnesty International last March, Kenya’s Minister of State for Immigration admitted “the closure of the border does not help. We would be better to screen them [Somali asylum seekers] so that we can know who they are.”
In its 18-page report, Amnesty International describes how Kenyan security forces have forcibly returned asylum-seekers and refugees to Somalia and demanded bribes and arbitrarily arrested and detained them. Somalis are regularly harassed by Kenyan police at the border areas, in the Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya and in urban areas, including Nairobi.
A Somali woman, age 55, told Amnesty International:
“I came to Dadaab seven days ago through Dobley. I was caught after Dobley and spent six days in jail in Garissa. I came by car with 25 other Somalis. We were all jailed... I had four children with me: one girl aged 11, and three boys aged eight, nine and three years-old. The Kenyan police said: “you came illegally through the wrong way.” I had to pay 5,000 Kenyan shillings. My relatives had to send money.”
The three Daadab camps are themselves grossly overcrowded. Originally built to accommodate 90,000 refugees, they now house more than 280,000. As a result, housing, water, sanitation, health and education services are strained.
The Kenyan government has been slow in allocating more land to host the growing refugee population.
Refugees in the Daadab camps told Amnesty International that the camps themselves are increasingly insecure and that members and sympathizers of al-Shabab, an armed Islamist group in Somalia, were present in the camps or travelled through them and at times recruited refugees to fight in Somalia. The Kenyan security forces are also reported to have been involved in recruiting Somali refugees for military training in late 2009.
“The situation in the Daadab camps has reached crisis point,” said Kagari. “Somali refugees find themselves stuck between a war zone and what many describe as an open prison, since Kenya does not allow them to leave the camps without special permission. Refugees who have made their way to Kenya’s cities live precariously and remain vulnerable to police abuse.”
“Kenya disproportionately shoulders the responsibility for massive refugee flows from Somalia and needs more support from the international community, including European Union countries to provide durable solutions for these people," said Kagari. Amnesty International is calling on the Kenyan government to ensure that Somalis are given refuge and adequate protection on Kenyan soil.
It also asks the international community and Kenya’s donor partners to share responsibility for Somalia’s refugee crisis and to increase resettlement programs and support local integration projects to improve the lives of refugees in Kenya.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.