Kenya must not return Somali refugees

Kenya must drop calls to force hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to Somalia where ongoing armed conflict would put their lives and security at risk, Amnesty International said today.It follows calls from the Kenyan MP Ndung’u Gethenji, head of the Parliament’s defence committee, to clear Somali refugees from camps in northern Kenya. He said they are used as “training ground” by armed groups such as al-Shabab.“Returning refugees to Somalia, where all parties to the conflict, including al-Shabab, continue to carry out attacks against civilians, would only make matters worse and would be in violation of international law. Instead, authorities in Kenya must protect those living in a vulnerable situation in refugee camps,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director.The call follows last month’s attack on a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The Somali armed group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. “Blaming Kenya’s security concerns and the recent heinous attack in Nairobi on hundreds of thousands of refugees discriminates against some of the most vulnerable people in the country,” said Jackson. “Kenya is under an obligation to protect those seeking asylum on its territory. This principle is the cornerstone of the international protection system and cannot be flouted.” Kenya hosts almost 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom are from Somalia. Most live in overcrowded, squalid conditions in refugee camps such as Dadaab.  Dadaab in north-eastern Kenya – the largest refugee camp in the world – poses a monumental challenge for the Kenyan authorities who disproportionately shoulder the responsibility for large refugee flows from Somalia.Within Somalia 1.1 million people remain displaced, with 80 per cent living in areas of conflict in southern and central areas of the country. Refugees and asylum seekers have been targets of abuse by authorities in Kenya. In December 2012 the Kenyan government issued a directive that all refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya move to refugee camps in the north of the country and that aid organizations end services to refugees in urban areas.On 26 July the Kenyan High Court quashed the directive, ruling it was arbitrary and discriminatory and threatened the right to freedom of movement for refugees. The Kenyan government has since filed an appeal and has gone ahead with talks to repatriate more than half a million Somalis.