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Refugees not harassed, says Lenku

Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku has warned that  organisations accusing the country of mistreating refugees are destructors with an “interest” in ensuring refugees do not leave at all.

By Aggrey Mutambo
Friday, February 21, 2014

The government on Wednesday tore into a report by a global human rights body on Somali refugees in Kenya, claiming the organisation was keen on slowing down the repatriation programme.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku told the Nation organisations accusing the country of mistreating refugees are destructors with an “interest” in ensuring refugees do not leave at all.

“Those doing business with refugees have no business masquerading around the issue of refugees’ welfare.

“Their interest is to keep refugees here and ours is to facilitate their safe return home,” he said.

Amnesty International on Tuesday charged that Somali refugees in Kenya are unwillingly returning home because they are being harassed.

In its latest report on Somali refugees, the organisation claimed that authorities are making life “unbearable” for refugees by either denying them registration or disregarding their identification passes.

“In recent years, there have been increasingly restrictive measures on the ability of asylum-seekers to register as refugees, and today it is almost impossible…Lack of registration is in itself a reason asylum-seekers consider returning to Somalia,” the report says in part.

The document titled No Place like Home: Returns and Relocations of Somalia’s displaced further claims that some Somali refugees want to go back because this lack of registration means they cannot get any other service.

“The refugees and asylum-seekers Amnesty International spoke to said that it was usually a combination of factors that led them to return or consider returning to Somalia. Primary among these were the limited access to food, health care and other services.”

Amnesty did not indicate how many have returned to Somalia because of discrimination, although the government recently claimed as many as 80,000 had returned ‘voluntarily.’

But the government accused Amnesty of making “wildest” allegations. Presidency Spokesman Manoah Esipisu told the Nation the government will “reject the allegations with the contempt they deserve.”

“Of course we are alive to security challenges along our borders and are implementing tougher surveillance in border areas but this has not affected refugee life in any way,” he said.

The refugees have been in our country for two decades and more. The refugees know they have been treated well in Kenya.

Amnesty International in its report documents interviews it had with refugees in Nairobi and at Dadaab where it reports of a continuing “humanitarian crisis.”

“The environment in Kenya is now so hostile that some refugees feel they have no option but to return to Somalia where the ongoing conflict in parts of the country continues to destroy lives. This is tantamount to forced return” Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director at Amnesty International told reporters at its launch.

Although the organisation admits to the burden that Kenya has shouldered over the years for Somalia refugees, it charges that Kenyan authorities routinely disregard international obligations required of them.

Refugees told Amnesty interviewers that their life feels like a ‘prison’ and that they would rather go back despite security threats in Somalia than remain.

“Here, in Kenya, it’s like a prison. At night we can’t leave the house, in the day we might be arrested. It is not currently safe in Somalia, we hear of killings and murder, but the situation here is very desperate… so instead of being here, let me go back,” a refugee only identified as Abdi is quoted in the report.

Another one identified as Omar said: “Better we die in Somalia than in the prison of a country we live in here.”

In November, Kenya, Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) signed an agreement setting out a framework for the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Somalia.

This programme is expected to start imminently although refugees will only return voluntarily.

Last week, Mr Lenku said Somalia was dragging its feet on the issue. On Wednesday, the Presidency added:

“Ideally, refugees should return to their home in Somalia and contribute to their country’s economic growth. We want to see that happen eventually.”


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