Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Is it Voluntary?

In November 2013, following a terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the Foreign Ministries of Somalia and Kenya along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agreed to facilitate the repatriation of all Somalia nationals living in Dadaab, citing Kenya’s concerns over national security. Following the Garissa University attack in April 2015, in which al-Shabaab killed 148 students, the government’s resolve to take action hardened. Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto announced that all remaining refugees in Dadaab would have to be repatriated by that September. Although this deadline came and went, and the Kenyan government has since admitted it will be too difficult to evacuate the camps by November 2016 as later promised, the spectre of Dadaab’s closure still hangs over the remaining 260,00-odd Somali refugees living in its five camps. The voluntary repatriation process is expected to end in 2018. Those who won’t go back, UNHCR has said, will be resettled in a third country, while non-Somali refugees will be rehoused at the Kakuma refugee camp in the north of the country. In addition, there are an estimated 40,000 Kenyan citizens of Somali origin thought to be living in Dadaab (primarily because they receive free food rations, according to a report by the Danish Refugee Council).

The country’s Interior Ministry spokesperson Mwenda Njoka explains, “Kenya’s refugee policy is to provide temporary stay for refugees and to let them go back home.”

In practical terms, this means that most refugees are only permitted to live in camps, unless they are seeking hospital treatment or pursuing further education. At present, it is almost impossible for a refugee to secure the legal right to work in Kenya.

“The Kenyan authorities are not giving Somali refugees a real choice between staying and leaving, and the UN refugee agency isn’t giving people accurate information about security conditions in Somalia,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) refugee rights director Bill Frelick in a press statement. “There is no way these returns can be considered voluntary,” which goes against international law.

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