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Kenya: Somali Refugees Under Threat

By Mark Yarnell

My colleague Melanie Teff and I have begun a two-week mission in Kenya to assess conditions for Somali refugees. Though we are both eager to get underway, I wish our mission was taking place under different circumstances.

This is an extremely difficult time to be a Somali in Kenya, with the government announcing last month that refugees in urban areas will have to leave the cities and report to refugee camps. The government has also shut down the registration of refugees in urban areas and instructed aid agencies to suspend urban refugee services.

Kenya estimates that around 100,000 refugees live in the nation’s cities, and it claims that this crackdown is a matter of national security. Indeed, it is true that Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood – home to tens of thousands of Somali refugees – has suffered a series a grenade attacks in recent months. But the government’s recent statements amount to a broad swipe at the entire refugee population – painting every one of them as potential terrorists and security risks.

Kenya’s presidential election will be held in just over a month, and there is surely an element of political posturing in these recent decisions. Refugees can’t vote, and so they are a convenient scapegoat for Kenya’s security challenges. Given that fact, it is possible that plans to kick refugees out Kenyan cities will be forgotten once the election is over. Still, the overheated rhetoric is already affecting the Somali refugee community.

The government’s announcement essentially gives the go-ahead for Kenyan security forces to abuse, extort, and arbitrarily arrest refugees. Police harassment has long been a concern, and this announcement provides official cover for rising xenophobia. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of refugees have been leaving Kenya every day. Some – particularly those with means – have sought refuge in other parts of Africa, while others have decided to take their chances back in Somalia.

Last week, during a historic visit to Washington, DC, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud spoke encouragingly of the recent spike in migration back to Somalia. He cited the wave of returnees as a sign that conditions in Somalia are improving. Yet RI remains concerned that many Somalis are actually fleeing persecution in Kenya instead of willfully returning.

During our trip to Kenya, Melanie and I will visit Eastleigh to meet with refugees and learn first-hand how Kenya’s policies are impacting their day-to-day lives. We will also meet with government and UN officials to discuss possible ways forward. Finally, we will travel to the Dadaab – the sprawling, insecure camp complex where these urban Somali refugees have been ordered to relocate. Dadaab already hosts nearly half-a-million Somalis, and we will assess what additional arrivals might mean for this overcrowded and badly under-resourced camp.

Comments

somali refugees:are they a threat to Kenyan National security?

Somali refugees are being victimized in the country due to the insecurities that have hit Kenya especially late last year.but aren't there laws to protect them or the government of Kenya can decide to kick them out of the country citing National insecurity?The 1951 Refugee convention is the international law that protects refugees but Kenya not having ratified it can it be bound by its provisions?
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