Kenya: Government forces refugees back to Somalia
15 November 2010

A Somali child in northern Kenya. If pushed back into Somalia, thousands of refugees risk facing serious human rights abuses. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
The crisis in Somali as well as the huge influx of refugees needs an international response. Kenya's resources are stretched to the limits.
Nairobi, 10 November 2010 – Human rights organisations have criticised the Kenyan government for forcing Somalis fleeing fighting between a pro-government militia and Islamist Al-Shabab fighters back across the border in violation of international law.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the authorities have ordered more than 8,000 – mostly women, children and elderly – Somalis, housed in a camp near Mandera, northeast Kenya, to leave the country. The camp lies 500 metres inside Kenya.

Some of the refugees have gone back towards Somalia and are now in no man's land, UNHCR said. Approximately 60,000 Somalis had fled heavy fighting for the control of the Somali town Bulohawo. 

"These refugees are running away from a very difficult situation, looking for a place where they can find peace and security. Forcible return deprives them of the right to seek protection and puts their lives at risk", said JRS Kenya Director Christine Mwaniki.

UNHCR has appealed to the authorities to immediately halt the return of Somalis, while officials responded saying refugee camps are already overcrowded.

However, the 1951 Refugee Convention - to which Kenya is a signatory – guarantees refugees the right to be protected from expulsion or forcible return to a country where their life could be in danger. Returning them is illegal under international law.

Resources stretched to the limits

More than 400,000 refugees – 330-odd thousand Somalis – reside in Kenya, making it one of the top 10 refugee-hosting countries in the world. Most live in four refugee camps, the largest of which, Dadaab, hosts 280,000 people. Tens of thousands of Somalis also live in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"The crisis in Somali as well as the huge influx of refugees needs an international response. Kenya's resources are stretched to the limits," Ms Mwaniki said.

"We empathise with our neighbours in Somalia. Although on a much smaller scale, Kenyans too experienced political turmoil and forced displacement during the 2007 post-election violence", she added.

Somali refugees first arrived in large numbers in the early 1990s, following the collapse of Siad Barre's dictatorial regime. Since then, there has been a steady flow of Somali refugees into Kenya, with circa 5,000 Somalis crossing the border into Kenya every month.

JRS supports Somali refugees in Nairobi and Kakuma refugee camp, providing emergency assistance, legal protection, counselling, and mental health care.

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