KENYA: Rights Group Condemn ‘Voluntary’ Refugee Returns to Somalia

NAIROBI SEPTEMBER 16, 2016 (CISA) – Kenya’s repatriation program for Somali refugees, fueled by fear and misinformation, does not meet international standards for voluntary refugee return, Human Rights Watch has said.

According to the rights group, many refugees living in Kenya’s Dadaab camp, home to at least 263,000 Somalis, “have agreed to return home because they fear Kenya will force them out if they stay.”

In a statement on its official website dated September 14, Human Rights Watch said the current experiences of many Somali refugees in Dadaab stands in sharp contrast to an agreement for the “voluntary” repatriation of Somali refugees signed in November 2013.

The agreement between Kenya, Somalia, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that says both countries and UNHCR will make sure Somalis return voluntarily in safety and dignity.

“Under international refugee practice, repatriation is only considered voluntary if refugees have a genuinely free choice about whether to return and are fully informed about conditions in their home country,” said the statement.

In May 2016, the Kenyan government announced plans to speed up the repatriation of Somali refugees and close the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya by November. Kenyan authorities, with officials from the UNHCR, then stepped up a 2013 “voluntary” repatriation program.

As of mid–August, more than 24,000 Somalia refugees had returned to Somalia from Dadaab since the start of the repatriation process in December 2014. Of that total, 18,110 returned in 2016, 10,000 after the camp closure announcement in May.

On August 29, returns were suspended because local authorities in Jubaland, an interim regional administration in Somalia bordering Kenya to which many of the refugees are returning, said they could not sufficiently assist returning refugees.

Human Rights Watch has further recommended that UNHCR not facilitate any refugee returns to Somalia “until Kenya confirms that all refugees have a genuinely free choice to stay in Kenya or return to Somalia.”

They further called on the Kenyan government to ensure that refugees are provided with accurate and up-to-date information about conditions in Somalia, including security conditions, consistent with UNHCR’s most current Position on Returns to Southern and Central Somalia.

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