Saturday, April 4, 2009

UN CONCERNED OVER KENYA’S FORCIBLE RETURN OF SOMALI ASYLUM SEEKERS

New York, Apr 3 2009 

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed its concern over the increasing trend by Kenyan authorities to forcibly Somali asylum seekers back to their war-torn nation.

On 31 March, 31 asylum seekers – nine men, eight women and 14 children – traveling by bus to refugees camps in Dabaab, in north-eastern Kenya, were sent back to Somalia. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that it has received information from a government official that the military intercepted the bus and took the Somalis to the police station, later escorting the vehicle back to Dobley, a centre near the Somali border. 

“When we requested intervention, we were informed that the police and military continue to return asylum seekers to Somalia acting on instructions from the authorities in the Provincial Headquarters in Garissa,” agency spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters today in Geneva. 

Dabaab police have also confirmed that a similar incident occurred on 23 March, when 61 asylum seekers were arrested by military officers and later returned to Liboi, near the border. 

In January, three Somali asylum seekers were also forcibly returned to their country. 

Somalia, which has been beset by factional strife since the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991, has witnessed a number of positive developments in recent months, including the creation of an expanded Parliament, the election of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the formation of the Unity Government. 

At the same time, the UN estimates that over 3 million people, a third or more of the total population, will remain dependent on humanitarian assistance this year. 

Mr. Redmond said that UNHCR has formally protested the forcible returns to the Kenyan Minister of Immigration and Registration. 

“Our concern is that despite bringing such cases to the attention of the Government, no action has been taken,” he said. 

“UNHCR reiterates that the Kenyan Government must adhere to and show full respect for the principle of non-refoulement, as enshrined in Kenya’s Refugee Act and International Law, with regard to Somali asylum seekers in particular.” 

In a related development, the agency announced that the first convoy of Somali refugees is being relocated from a transit centre in Dolo Ado, near the border between Somalia and Ethiopia, to the new Bokolmanyo camp some 90 kilometres inside Ethiopia. 

Ten buses, carrying 157 refugees who escaped the renewed fighting in central and southern Somalia in the past few months, and they are part of a group of 5,000 Somalis who have recently been recognized as refugees by the Ethiopian Government, with the support of UNHCR. 

An additional 5,000 Somalis, who are waiting to be screened, are sheltering with the local community, many of whom are ethnic Somalis, in Dolo Ado, they claim also to have fled the stepped up clashes. 

“The opening of the new camp and subsequent extension of international protection and assistance might encourage thousands of others living with the community to apply for asylum,” Mr. Redmond said. 

Local authorities provided the land for UNHCR’s new camp site at Bokolmanyo, which can accommodate up to 20,000 refugees, with the agency and its partners intensifying the efforts to expand basic infrastructure. Building schools and other facilities are also in the pipeline. 

Upon arrival at the camp, the refugees will spend three days in a reception area, where they will be allocated plots of land and given materials with which they will build their huts, as well as food, blankets, kitchen sets, mosquito nets and other supplies. 

Ethiopia’s Somali region already hosts over 33,000 Somali refugees in three camps, and with the new arrivals, that number is expected to top 40,000 shortly. 

At the peak of the Somali refugee crisis in the early 1990s, the region hosted nearly 630,000 refugees in eight camps, and the overwhelming majority of them returned to their country between 1997 and 2005 and only one camp was left. 

However, renewed fighting in southern and central Somalia led to the creation of two new camps in 2008 and 2008 to accommodate new refugees fleeing the violence.