Widespread intimidation, the abuse of human rights and the withdrawal of services are forcing Somali refugees out of Kenya, said Amnesty International in a report published today.
“The environment in Kenya is now so hostile that some refugees feel they have no option but to return to Somalia where the ongoing conflict in parts of the country continues to destroy lives. This is tantamount to forced return” said Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International’s report “No Place Like Home” reveals how life for Somali refugees has been made unbearable. People are denied access to registration, meaning they are illegally staying in Kenya, and are actively targeted by the police with indiscriminate arrests.
Abdi, 28, said “Here, in Kenya, it’s like a prison. At night we can’t leave the house, in the day we might be arrested. It is not currently safe in Somalia, we hear of killings and murder, but the situation here is very desperate… so instead of being here, let me go back.”
Last November, in the wake of the al-Shabab attack on Westgate in Nairobi, the governments of Somalia and Kenya met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and signed an agreement setting out a framework for the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Somalia. This programme is expected to start imminently.
“The combination of insecurity and harassment has left refugees struggling to survive in Kenya. They are effectively being pushed out of their safe havens. For returns to be legal, they must be voluntary. That means without undue pressure, with their safety and dignity guaranteed. At present we are extremely concerned that these criteria will not be met” said Sarah Jackson.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s own guidelines, a refugee’s decision to return can only be considered voluntary if it is motivated by positive ‘pull-factors’ in Somalia and not by pressure for them to leave Kenya.
The vast majority of refugees interviewed by Amnesty International felt they were being compelled to leave Kenya.
Those that have returned to conflict areas in Somalia risk persecution and retribution.
Fartuun told Amnesty International about his uncle’s return home to Lower Shabelle. “He was captured the day he returned home. Al-Shabab soldiers took him away and held him captive. After five days they brought him in front of the stadium and beheaded him in front of people. After, they left him outside with his head on his stomach […] for one week.”
“According to international law, voluntary returns can only take place when safety and dignity is guaranteed. How can this be possible when grave human rights abuses happen on a daily basis in Somalia?” said Sarah Jackson.
“The Kenyan government and UNHCR are duty bound to protect refugees in Kenya. Pressuring people to return to areas of active armed conflict where their lives and freedom are at risk is prohibited under international law.”