Before being sent to Mogadishu, Ahmed Said had never seen a corpse before.
His family fled southern Somalia when he was just a child. More than two decades later, the 26-year-old was deported from the Netherlands to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on 5 November.
He told Amnesty International: “I cannot explain how I felt leaving the airport, it was like a nightmare. I was thinking, 'how can I survive'? I was scared about my life, and the danger there in Mogadishu.”
Just three days after his arrival, on 8 November, his fears about being sent to this dangerous place – a city he says he had never seen before – became a reality. Ahmed was walking down the road near the capital’s Hotel Maka when he heard an explosion. The blast – a suicide attack – killed at least six people and injured Ahmed and numerous others.
“Everything was flying in my eyes,” Ahmed said, and explained how windows shattered in the explosion. He said he injured his hand and foot.
The attack was claimed by al-Shabab, an al-Qa’ida-aligned Islamist armed group which was responsible for the horrifying attack that took place on 21-24 September in Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall which killed 67 people.
In December 2012, the Dutch government was the first of a number of Western states to announce they would resume returns of failed asylum seekers to Mogadishu, citing improved security as the key reason. Amnesty International understands that there is an agreement between the Dutch and Somali authorities that allows for two deportations per month.
Ahmed was the second person to be deported from the Netherlands to Mogadishu under this arrangement. His experience speaks to the very real dangers of Mogadishu, where hand-grenade attacks, explosions and killings take place daily.
Still not safe
Despite some improvements in Mogadishu’s security in recent years, the situation remains fragile and volatile. Indeed, the security situation has again deteriorated throughout 2013. Although the capital is largely under government control, an armed conflict still continues between the Somali National Armed Forces and al-Shabab. Civilians are at risk of grave human rights abuses, including indiscriminate and targeted violence, rape, killings, as well as extortion.
“Ahmed’s situation is a stark reminder that Mogadishu is not yet safe, and Western states are putting people’s lives are at risk by returning them there. Sadly, even the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Mogadishu is now safe enough to warrant returns – this is simply untenable and returning people risks sending them into a very volatile situation,” says Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director at Amnesty International.
In its September judgement on a forcible return case in Sweden, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the general level of violence in Mogadishu had decreased since 2011. While there have been some improvements in security, Amnesty International believes that it is far from safe enough to begin deporting people there.
Ahmed says he is from Kismayo, a war-torn city in southern Somalia. He and his family fled the country more than 20 years ago and have not left Europe since he arrived. In effect, he is a foreigner in Somalia. His return to Somalia by the Dutch authorities is tantamount to abandoning a foreigner in a highly dangerous city to fend for himself.
People with few connections in Mogadishu are at a heightened risk of living in one of Somalia’s internally displaced people’s camps. The camp conditions are dire, and their residents are extremely vulnerable to ill-treatment and human rights abuses. Security is not Ahmed’s only concern. Without access to clean water he will likely experience ongoing ill-health, something with which he is already battling.
“Western states have been too quick to claim that the situation in Mogadishu has improved. They must review their change in policy and recognize the reality that Mogadishu is still unsafe, and they are endangering people’s lives by sending them there,” says Sarah Jackson.
Ahmed is just one person affected by such policy changes. If they remain in place, many more people will be uprooted and their lives put at risk.
“I would not wish this on anybody,” Ahmed says, reflecting on his terrifying ordeal.