Somali refugees nervous as Kenya eyes their return
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Row after row of tin shacks and shelters made of plastic and branches
stretch almost as far as the eye can see in the world's largest refugee
camp, home to over 427,000 Somalis who fled war.
Dadaab, in northeast Kenya, is a grim place few would choose to call
home, but many here are nervous about the growing pressure to leave this
camp and return to their unstable homeland some last saw two decades
Kenya, which hosts more than 600,000 Somali refugees, has made clear its
ambition to send them back, and is in talks with the government in
Mogadishu to start the move.
"I don't know of a stable place in Somalia" to return to, said Abdi
Arte, leader of the Kambios section in the sprawling camp, set in arid
bushland some 100 kilometres (60 miles) inside Kenya.
"But the government is insisting to have refugees relocated back home."
Last month, Kenya and Somalia signed a deal for "voluntary
repatriation", with plans under way to work out how people can start
Kenya's new government has steered clear of strong-arm statements made
last year when Nairobi ordered more than 30,000 refugees living in urban
areas to return to remote and overcrowded camps.
But based on past experiences, refugees are worried.
Rights groups have accused Kenyan police of a brutal campaign against
Somali refugees, following a string of grenade attacks or shootings
inside Kenya blamed on supporters or members of Somalia's Al-Qaeda
linked Shebab insurgents.
Human Rights Watch, in a report released in May, documented multiple cases of police rape of Somali refugees.
"The police held the detainees -- sometimes for many days in inhuman and
degrading conditions -- while threatening to charge them, without any
evidence, with terrorism or public order offences," the report said.
Somali refugees say they are eyed with suspicion by police, even though
many of those actually charged for attacks have not been ethnic Somalis.
Impoverished Somalia spiralled into repeated rounds of bloody civil war
beginning in 1991, allowing piracy, militia armies and extremist rebels
Last year an internationally-backed government took power in Mogadishu,
defended by a 17,700-strong African Union force -- including Kenyan
troops -- but its control beyond the capital remains fragile at best.
- Eager to leave, but nowhere to go? -
There is no doubt that many refugees long to be able to return to a safe
home in Somalia. The problem is whether that is available.
"I want to go back home," said Amina Yussuf, who lives in Dadaab's Ifo
2, a crowded camp, insecure and beset by violence and abductions.
"I fear being raped here in the camp," she added.
More than a million Somalis are refugees in regional nations, the most
from a single country after Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the
But another million people are displaced inside the country, a sign that
Somalia is still very far from the stability needed for large scale
"It is not a good time to go back," said Ibrahim Roble, a youth leader
in Dadaab's Dagahaley camp, who fled southern Somalia as a child.
"So many of us here in Dadaab are from parts of Somalia that are still unstable."
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who visited
Mogadishu and Nairobi this week, stressed that any return to Somalia
must be voluntary.
"If we do these returns properly, they can be a positive factor for the development in Somalia," he told reporters in Kenya.
"On the other hand, if huge numbers of refugees go home prematurely, they could contribute to destabilisation."
Many of the youth were born in the camps -- or were too young to
remember Somalia when they fled -- and have little knowledge of life
back in their home nation.
In the first six months of this year, some 21,000 new Somali refugees
were reported arriving in neighbouring nations, according to UNHCR, far
lower rates than in recent years, but still outweighing the estimated
12,000 refugees who chose to return to Somalia in that six-month period.
Somalis in Dadaab fled from all across the country and returning home
would involve travelling through war-zones controlled by multiple
militia forces, including the hardline Shebab.
"We cannot be thrown into fire like that, what is the government's contingency plan?" asked refugee Mohamed Ade.
"We don't understand. It is not the right time for relocating refugees."