Mark Yarnell

All Africa: Nigeria: Panic Over Planned Closure of Nigeria Refugee Camps

REFUGEE rights groups have bemoaned the imminent closure of camps housing millions of Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram terror northeast of the country.

The West African country is planning to close all refugee camps by May and facilitate large-scale returns in the Borno State, especially to remote areas only recently secured from the terrorists.

Refugees International (RI) expressed alarm at the plans.

"We are concerned that many returns are being fueled by official pressure and the spread of misinformation," Alexandra Lamarche, RI Advocate for Sub-Saharan Africa, said.

Authorities are accelerating plans to return the displaced civilians as Nigeria approaches its national elections in early 2019.

Mark Yarnell, RI Senior Advocate, said while the Nigerian military had liberated a number of areas in the northeast Nigeria from Boko Haram control, major security challenges remained.

"Making large-scale returns for the majority of displaced civilians is entirely premature," Yarnell said.

As a result of the Boko Haram banditry, the scale of the humanitarian and security challenges within Nigeria remains staggering.

About 2 million Nigerians are displaced within the country and 7,7 million in urgent need of emergency assistance.

Additionally, the conflict still results in new displacement.

Humanitarian groups estimate more than 930 000 Nigerians are located in hard-to-reach areas impacted by the security situation are likely in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Boko Haram is perpetrating a violent campaign to overthrow the government an establish a radical Islamic state.

An estimated 100 000 civilians have been killed during the insurgency that begand in 2009.

For the original article, click here. 

Irin: Five migration trends to watch in 2018

2017 saw a host of new and quickly deepening humanitarian crises from Southeast Asia to Africa. But behind this rising tide of forced displacement was an isolationist and xenophobic political backdrop that could render 2018 even worse, especially given the lack of diplomatic leverage and leadership required to resolve intractable conflicts.

In the United States, President Donald Trump spent his first year erecting bureaucratic walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, while calling for a physical wall along the southern US border. In Europe, far-right candidates threatened to upset a host of elections. And, as North Africa acted as a holding cell, conflicts in both the continent's east and centre escalated while humanitarian budgets shrank, driving up the numbers of internally displaced and urgent protection needs.

“What distinguishes conflicts of today is that they’re unending,” Demetrios Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, told IRIN. “None of the conflicts we see today are anywhere near being resolved, because the resolutions are extremely complex. They involve religion, power, control of resources. No refugee-producing conflict today will be resolved in the near future.”

UN member states are hammering out the details of two global compacts – one on refugees and one on migration – to be adopted at this year’s General Assembly in September. But few are optimistic that they will be game-changers for better global refugee and migration governance in the years to come.

So, while this year promises to be even more difficult, here are five key questions on migration policy the answers to which will shape how 2018 really plays out for some of the world’s most vulnerable people:

Will the EU continue its harmful deterrence policies?

A dramatic decline in sea crossings from Libya to Europe in 2017 sounds on the surface like a success. But this year is likely to expose the kinds of human rights abuses the EU is willing to tolerate to keep externalising its migration responsibilities.

Like the 2016 EU-Turkey accord – which choked off the Aegean Sea route but led to more than 10,000 asylum seekers being detained on Greek islands and returns to unsafe countries – Italy’s deals with Libyan groups have come with a human cost: abuse for up to one million migrants languishing in detention centres, often with ties to militias. Despite an international outcry, mainly due to CNN footage of what appeared to be slave auctions, little is likely to change before Italy's general election in March.

Towards the end of 2017, the EU and the African Union put together a repatriation plan to send migrants back to their countries of origin or other transit countries, such as Niger, with the help of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration.

“The bigger question is what happens to people when they’re back in Niger,” Minos Mouzourakis, policy researcher at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels, told IRIN. “The EU is talking about resettlement as an option, but that doesn’t mean the same people being evacuated to Niger will have access to durable solutions. What is the actual objective? Are we just returning people to another transit country and calling it an evacuation, or are we giving them avenues to other legal options like resettlement?”

Migrant returns are paid for through programmes like a 3.3 billion-euro "emergency trust fund" originally billed as development aid for North Africa.

In late December, 162 refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen were brought to Italyfrom Libya under the EU-AU plan. But if the troubled inter-EU relocation programme is any indication, infighting may prevent the bloc from implementing a meaningful plan for resettlement from Africa.

Will the US lead the way (backwards) on refugee resettlement?

Last year, Trump all but ended resettlement to the United States, which has taken two thirds of the world's resettled refugees annually for the past decade. His executive order last January banned refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, prompting months of legal battles and indefinitely barring tens of thousands who had cleared the years-long vetting process. Though courts have saved the programme, the president sets the ceiling for refugee admissions, and in September he set it at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the lowest level since its inception in 1980. So far, admissions have slowed to a trickle. Many advocates predict the United States won’t even come close to Trump’s number.

Domestically, this threatens the entire American resettlement regime, since resettlement agencies’ federal funding is tied to the number of refugees they assist. Several agencies are already closing offices and laying off personnel.

Other countries are stepping in with increased resettlement pledges, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But those slots won’t be enough to fill the hole left by the United States.

“At a time when the international community is trying to come together to promote more equitable responsibility-sharing on refugees, when the US cuts the number of refugees it’ll resettle, it sends a very negative signal to the rest of the world,” Mark Yarnell, senior advocate and UN liaison for Refugees International in Washington, DC, told IRIN. “And even though resettlement is so rare relative to the number of people who are refugees, it’s still the solution many refugees hope for – and when they see it diminishing, they’re more likely to take more hazardous paths to safety.”

For the full article, click here

All Africa: Five Migration Trends to Watch in 2018

2017 saw a host of new and quickly deepening humanitarian crises from Southeast Asia to Africa. But behind this rising tide of forced displacement was an isolationist and xenophobic political backdrop that could render 2018 even worse, especially given the lack of diplomatic leverage and leadership required to resolve intractable conflicts.

In the United States, President Donald Trump spent his first year erecting bureaucratic walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, while calling for a physical wall along the southern US border. In Europe, far-right candidates threatened to upset a host of elections. And, as North Africa acted as a holding cell, conflicts in both the continent's east and centre escalated while humanitarian budgets shrank, driving up the numbers of internally displaced and urgent protection needs.

"What distinguishes conflicts of today is that they're unending," Demetrios Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, told IRIN. "None of the conflicts we see today are anywhere near being resolved, because the resolutions are extremely complex. They involve religion, power, control of resources. No refugee-producing conflict today will be resolved in the near future."

UN member states are hammering out the details of two global compacts - one on refugees and one on migration - to be adopted at this year's General Assembly in September. But few are optimistic that they will be game-changers for better global refugee and migration governance in the years to come.

So, while this year promises to be even more difficult, here are five key questions on migration policy the answers to which will shape how 2018 really plays out for some of the world's most vulnerable people:

A dramatic decline in sea crossings from Libya to Europe in 2017 sounds on the surface like a success. But this year is likely to expose the kinds of human rights abuses the EU is willing to tolerate to keep externalising its migration responsibilities.

Like the 2016 EU-Turkey accord - which choked off the Aegean Sea route but led to more than 10,000 asylum seekers being detained on Greek islands and returns to unsafe countries - Italy's deals with Libyan groups have come with a human cost: abuse for up to one million migrants languishing in detention centres, often with ties to militias. Despite an international outcry, mainly due to CNN footage of what appeared to be slave auctions, little is likely to change before Italy's general election in March.

Towards the end of 2017, the EU and the African Union put together a repatriation plan to send migrants back to their countries of origin or other transit countries, such as Niger, with the help of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration.

"The bigger question is what happens to people when they're back in Niger," Minos Mouzourakis, policy researcher at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels, told IRIN. "The EU is talking about resettlement as an option, but that doesn't mean the same people being evacuated to Niger will have access to durable solutions. What is the actual objective? Are we just returning people to another transit country and calling it an evacuation, or are we giving them avenues to other legal options like resettlement?"

Migrant returns are paid for through programmes like a 3.3 billion-euro "emergency trust fund" originally billed as development aid for North Africa.

In late December, 162 refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen were brought to Italy from Libya under the EU-AU plan. But if the troubled inter-EU relocation programme is any indication, infighting may prevent the bloc from implementing a meaningful plan for resettlement from Africa.

Last year, Trump all but ended resettlement to the United States, which has taken two thirds of the world's resettled refugees annually for the past decade. His executive order last January banned refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, prompting months of legal battles and indefinitely barring tens of thousands who had cleared the years-long vetting process. Though courts have saved the programme, the president sets the ceiling for refugee admissions, and in September he set it at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the lowest level since its inception in 1980. So far, admissions have slowed to a trickle. Many advocates predict the United States won't even come close to Trump's number.

Domestically, this threatens the entire American resettlement regime, since resettlement agencies' federal funding is tied to the number of refugees they assist. Several agencies are already closing offices and laying off personnel.

Other countries are stepping in with increased resettlement pledges, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But those slots won't be enough to fill the hole left by the United States.

"At a time when the international community is trying to come together to promote more equitable responsibility-sharing on refugees, when the US cuts the number of refugees it'll resettle, it sends a very negative signal to the rest of the world," Mark Yarnell, senior advocate and UN liaison for Refugees International in Washington, DC, told IRIN. "And even though resettlement is so rare relative to the number of people who are refugees, it's still the solution many refugees hope for - and when they see it diminishing, they're more likely to take more hazardous paths to safety."

To view full article, click here

The Intercept: AS TRUMP BLOCKS REFUGEES, AFRICANS FLEEING VIOLENCE MAKE THE TREACHEROUS TRIP TO THE U.S. THROUGH MEXICO

SIGLO XXI, LATIN America’s largest detention facility, is located blocks away from Mama Africa.

There, immigration authorities direct migrants to form two lines: one for Central Americans and one for everybody else. When I visited last December, that was mainly Cubans, Haitians, and Africans.

A Cuban couple sweated next to a stack of hard suitcases, while young Somali and Cameroonian men perched on planters, some sporting gold watches and white sneakers. Older Haitian men fiddled on cheap phones.

The scene underscored the complexities of a mass migration that many American politicians still paint as simply desperate Mexicans. While African migrants number far fewer than the Central Americans they journey alongside to the United States, their ranks have, in fact, grown far faster.

Mexico has had to adapt, Mark Manly, the U.N. refugee agency representative in Mexico, told me.

“The country is adjusting to the reality that many of the people arriving are refugees,” he said, “not all migrants in transit.”

When the couple hundred Africans showing up in Chiapas a decade ago grew to thousands, Mexican authorities had few diplomatic ties to their countries, and few resources to deport them back. So they began providing transit visas that gave them 20 days to get to the border – itself a potentially treacherous journey.

Word of this fast-track to the United States has spread and may be drawing more.

“We get migrants of all colors – blue, green,” joked Ignacio Alejandro Vila Chávez, a Mexican government lawyer representing migrants in Chiapas, who’s trained at U.S. Justice Department seminars. He said the African influx is one of the most significant changes he’s witnessed.

Bertrand Chofong, one of a group of three stylish Cameroonian migrants outside Siglo XXI, told me, “If I didn’t leave my country, I would be dead by now.”

Cameroonian security forces detained the 21-year-old nursing student amid deadly unrest between minority English speakers and a French-speaking majority. Upon releasehe fled immediately to South Africa. From there, his path aligned exactly with Hassan’s.

Chofong was hoping to join his mother in Maryland. After he and his companions got transit visas from Siglo XXI, they’d take a bus straight to Tijuana. Smugglers had given them directions on how to get the rest of the way North.

Even if Africans like Hassan or Chofong to make it to the border, what happens next is unclear. While Mexico City will not necessarily deport them, Washington would certainly like to.

Trump boasts of his immigration crackdown as a success, particularly after the number of apprehensions and migrants deemed “inadmissible” by border agents dropped to their lowest level in nearly 50 years in fiscal 2017. At the same time, after an initial sharp drop after Trump’s inauguration, arrests and inadmissible cases at the U.S.-Mexico border have steadily increased since May, indicating people are still turning up at the border, in increasing numbers.

The administration has vowed to target “abuse” of asylum, and frontline immigration officers are reportedly turning away asylum-seekers. And while asylum applications in the U.S. have more than doubled in the past few years, Trump officials have at the same time lowered approval rates.

According to an analysis of the latest Homeland Security data, from January to September, immigration authorities have approved affirmative asylum requests 20 percent less on average compared to the Obama administration’s final year.

In fiscal year 2017, U.S. Border Patrol deemed 6,728 Africans at ports of entry, including 187 Somalis, “inadmissible,” refusing them admission to the country. The administration also deported more than 521 Somalis to Mogadishu, compared to 198 in fiscal year 2016. The Somali ambassador to the United States has protested this, saying it is still too dangerous, while some advocates have expressed concerns that Somali asylum-seekers are being coerced into signing letters saying they wish to go back.

U.S. border authorities are trying to deter asylum claims by requiring would-be refugees to wait in Mexico, said Frelick of Human Rights Watch.

“Which you would assume would require the consent of the Mexican government,” Frelick said, continuing, “This is not a cozy relationship at the moment.”

Mark Yarnell, a liaison to the U.N. and senior advocate at Refugees International, told me that “if safe and legal pathways aren’t there, [refugees] are going to link up with smugglers and take riskier options, and more people are going to die.”

Read the full article here

Reuters: Flexibility, long-term planning reduce Somali famine threat, report says

Read the original article here.

 

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - People suffering in Somalia’s latest drought have fared better when donors deftly shift funding to emergency projects that help residents save money and stockpile food, a charity said on Tuesday.

Severe drought in the Horn of Africa nation is expected to deepen until the October rainy season, and humanitarians are racing to avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine when more than 250,000 people died of starvation.

Funding from major donors, including the United States, Britain and the European Union has been used effectively in Somalia for community warehousing of food and for savings and loans programs, the rights group Refugees International said in a report.

Flexible use of that funding allowed agencies in Somalia to switch to emergency preparedness projects once it became clear in June 2016 that the drought would be prolonged, it said.

It was easier for donors to send funds to agencies in Somalia because they already had contracts in place, it said.

“By acting early to heed pre-famine warnings, the humanitarian community in Somalia and donors were able to stabilize what could have been a catastrophic situation,” it said.

“Many of the target communities were better able to maintain food security, preserve their assets, and avoid having to flee to other areas during the drought.”

More than 6 million Somalis -- about half the country’s population -- are in need of emergency aid, the United Nations says.

Another sign of progress since the 2011 famine is that the government’s national development plan and the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal included long-term resilience projects, Refugees International said.

Along with a shift to longer-term planning, Somalia needs a stronger government and peace to end its recurrent hunger crises, Mark Yarnell, a senior advocate with Refugees International told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The unfortunate reality is [resilience] can never occur at a scale that will be able to fend off this inevitable rolling tide of climate change,” he said.

Southern Somalia is receiving less rainfall than historic averages, which has hit poor farmers, the report said.

Middle East Eye: Obama’s rush to fix refugee pledges before January

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Donald Trump’s election is one more reason for Obama’s team to firm up global refugee plans before leaving the White House

James Reinl
Monday 14 November 2016 21:48 UTC
Last update: Tuesday 15 November 2016 3:52 UTC

UNITED NATIONS – Members of US President Barack Obama’s administration are scrambling to cement gains they made in tackling the global refugee crisis at a summit earlier this year before the team vacates the Oval Office in January.

Catherine Wiesner, the US Department of State’s deputy assistant secretary on refugees, told Middle East Eye that colleagues were working to ensure that donor countries come good on their pledges to resettle refugees and boost aid for those displaced by war and disasters.

They seek to confirm exactly what the 52 countries and world organisations that attended Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September offered. They also aim to publish a list of international pledges in the coming weeks to answer criticisms of opaqueness.

The US is seeking another country to “take over responsibility” on refugees by hosting a follow-up meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2017 to keep track of the “progress and the commitments” made in September, Wiesner told MEE.

“We’ll also be looking with whoever steps forward to be the co-host and … planning with them some regional or thematic meetings over the course of the year to keep the momentum going,” she added.

Global refugee crisis

Obama hosted the refugee summit on the sidelines of UNGA as an ad hoc response to a global refugee crisis of some 65.3 million displaced people after UN members rejected a global plan to commit to resettle 10 percent of refugees each year.

The largest mass displacement crisis since the Second World War has seen refugees pour into Europe from parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, giving succour to populist, anti-immigrant politicians in the West, including US President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggests he will be unwilling to accommodate refugees from Islamist countries in the US after he takes office in January – and less likely than Obama to push other countries to share the burden.

At Obama’s UN summit, countries agreed to boost spending on refugees by $4.5bn from the 2015 levels, to eventually double the number of resettlement slots to about 360,000 and to make it easier for refugees to work and study in host countries.

After pledging conferences, organisers typically publish lists of donors and their commitments in the media. Since the September summit, however, US officials have kept tight-lipped about the pledges made behind closed doors.

Mark Yarnell, an advocate at Refugees International, a pressure group, urged the US State Department to release details speedily to help activists and aid workers in donor countries keep tabs on their governments.

“First you need that basic information of the full commitments and then you need to dig into what each country pledged exactly. Is it actually a new commitment? Is it money that was previously committed and then re-purposed?” Yarnell told MEE.  

According to Wiesner, the “list will be published”. She put delays down to “sensitivity” among donors over absorbing refugees and opening up job and schooling opportunities that could be perceived as detrimental to native populations.

The list is expected to reveal sharp increases in resettlement slots in some middle-income countries, as well as new visa opportunities for workers and their families from war-torn Arab countries to live in the oil-rich Gulf, Wiesner said.

“In the Gulf, a lot of these countries have Syrians and other nationalities that have come to their country to work … so a lot of the dialogue there is about alternative pathways,” Wiesner said. “Whether people are already working in Gulf countries and have their status regularised, or are able to bring their families in safe ways to join them.”

A co-host from the September meeting is expected to take responsibility for a follow-up meeting during the UNGA in 2017 to track pledges, but, so far, neither Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico nor Sweden has stepped up to the plate.

Praise for refugee donor countries

Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, praised countries for making “significant and tangible commitments to support refugees” via aid, new admissions, strengthening asylum systems and offering other legal protections.

“We understand that the specifics of a review process and follow-up to the summit are being discussed among the co-hosts and other participating states. UNHCR looks forward to supporting states as they begin the important work of implementation,” Saltmarsh told MEE.

According to Saltmarsh, UN members are also working towards a global deal to “address refugee situations more comprehensively, predictably and equitably” at some point in 2018.

Karen Abuzayd, who led UN efforts on refugees during the meetings in September, said the UNHCR aimed to significantly increase the number of safe havens for displaced people worldwide by resettling five percent of global refugees each year.

That would amount to 1.1 million resettlements in 2017, compared to 100,000 in 2015.

“I think UNHCR’s going to push it, so, and the governments have agreed to it, so they’ll have to step up,” Abuzayd told MEE. “And if they do 5 percent, I’ll be really pleased next year.”

AP: Kenya Warned Against Closing World's Largest Refugee Camp

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By CARA ANNA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

JOHANNESBURG — Nov 4, 2016, 9:17 AM ET

 Another major aid group is warning Kenya not to close the world's largest refugee camp, saying the move is pressuring tens of thousands of Somali refugees to return to their deeply unstable country.

A new Refugees International report says Somali refugees in the Dadaab camp in Kenya say they feel under pressure to leave for Somalia, where attacks by Islamic extremist group al-Shabab continue and hunger is widespread.

The U.N. refugee agency "claims that it only supports voluntary returns, but none of the refugees whom we spoke with in Dadaab said they felt like they have much choice," said Mark Yarnell, who wrote the report after visiting Dadaab and Somalia. "It is a failure of the international refugee response system that other options are not available."

The report says Kenya should lift its Nov. 30 deadline to close the camp, which has existed for a quarter-century and holds more than 250,000 people. It sprawls in a dry, thorny region near the border with Somalia, where many born in the camp have never been.

On Monday, Kenya's High Court will hear a petition filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to challenge the government's plan to close the camp, Amnesty International said Friday.

Groups including Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Refugee Council also have expressed alarm in recent weeks over Kenya's reported pressure on Somali refugees to leave. They say large parts of Somalia remain insecure and aid for returnees is limited.

Kenya has expressed concern that some Dadaab residents are used by the Somalia-based al-Shabab to launch attacks inside Kenya. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has said repatriations will be voluntary and humane.

The Refugees International report urges the U.N. refugee agency to give Dadaab residents "reliable information" about security conditions in Somalia.

Foreign Policy: The U.N. Is Sending Thousands of Refugees Back Into a War Zone

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Kenya’s plan to close the world’s largest refugee camp involves illegal forced repatriations of Somalis. Why is the U.N. helping to carry it out?

By Ty McCormick

KISMAYO, Somalia — For years, Katra Abii dreamed of moving her family back to Somalia. All eight of her children were born in neighboring Kenya, in the world’s largest refugee camp, but she hoped one day they would be able to marry and start families of their own in their home country.

As long as al-Shabab insurgents continued to maim and kill in their quest to topple the weak Somali government, however, she and her children planned to stay put.

Then, in May, Kenya announced its intention to shutter Dadaab, a desolate swath of desert that was home to more than 300,000 refugees, Abii and her children among them, because it claimed al-Shabab had made inroads there. Under pressure from the Kenyan government, which reluctantly hosts the seventh-largest refugee population in the world, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) agreed to accelerate the repatriation of those Somalis who were willing to return home.

Soon, it was sending as many as 1,000 people back to Somalia every day.

But Abii says there is nothing voluntary about UNHCR’s “voluntary” repatriation program, which is partially funded by U.S. government. She agreed to relocate to Somalia in August only because she had been led to believe that the Kenyan government would eventually evict everyone by force. She knew if the army began rounding up refugees and sending them back to Somalia, as it did after a string of terrorist attacks in 2014, there would be no time to take advantage of the limited financial assistance UNHCR was offering to returnees.

So Abii decided to take her children back to Kismayo, even though she knew it wouldn’t be a happy homecoming. Once there, she found that even the bare-bones support they had been promised — schools, health care, a meager cash allowance for food — was insufficient or didn’t exist at all. She and her children ended up in a camp with internally displaced Somalis — people uprooted by the war who hadn’t made it across the border into Kenya. Their new home, one of hundreds of flimsy huts huddled together on a trash-strewn beach, was similar to the one they had left behind in Dadaab. Except it was less secure and there were fewer aid agencies working to keep them alive.

“I was poor in Dadaab, but I am destitute here,” said Abii, whose angular features were framed by a flowing blue headscarf tucked tightly beneath her chin. “The Kenyans told us it’s time to return to your home country. They told us we don’t have a choice.”

Since December 2014, UNHCR has facilitated the return of more than 24,000 refugees to Somalia, all of whom it says went willingly. But as the agency has accelerated the repatriation process to keep pace with Kenyan efforts to close Dadaab, the line between voluntary and involuntary seems to have collapsed. UNHCR now appears to be managing a process that violates the cardinal rule of refugee protection: that refugees and asylum-seekers shall not be returned against their will to any country where they face a threat of persecution.

The principle of non-refoulement, as it is known, is enshrined within the 2013 “tripartite” agreement between UNHCR and the Kenyan and Somali governments that governs the current repatriation process, as well as the 1969 African refugee convention, to which Kenya is a signatory. Evidence that Kenya is subverting these agreements — and that UNHCR is enabling it to do so — has mounted in recent months as rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have documented incidents of intimidation in Dadaab. But interviews conducted by Foreign Policy in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo offer the first concrete evidence that refugees have been sent back against their will, confirming that a campaign of forced repatriation is underway.

This month, more than a dozen returnees from Dadaab told FP in separate interviews that they were intimidated by Kenyan authorities and ultimately felt forced to leave Kenya. The returnees, as well as multiple aid workers and Somali government officials, described a UNHCR-facilitated repatriation process that is not only coercive but haphazardly executed and unsupported by any long-term plan to prevent returnees from becoming de facto refugees in their own country.

“These people are being dumped here with no international support and no plan for how they will be cared for. They have no shelter, no food, no health, and no schools,” said Ibrahim Mohamed Yusuf, the mayor of Kismayo. “We are a small nation reeling from civil war. People are already dying because of a lack of health care. How can we be expected to care for more people?”

Somalia is still at war. A 22,000-strong African Union force has expelled al-Shabab from most urban areas, but the al Qaeda-linked group continues to strike at will virtually anywhere in the southern and central portions of the country. It has attacked a landmark hotel less than a block from the presidential palace in Mogadishu three times in the last two years, most recently killing 22 people with a truck bomb on Aug. 30. FP previously documented how this violence has affected returnees from Dadaab, some of whom have already fled back to Kenya a second time.

Even before it began accepting returnees from Kenyan refugee camps, the country housed more than a million displaced Somalis within its borders because of conflict and drought. Most live in crowded camps at the margins of cities, paying so-called “gatekeepers” to avoid being targeted by bandits and militiamen. The few hospitals and schools that are still standing after a quarter century of civil war are mostly private — and prohibitively expensive for all but the richest Somalis. Nationwide, four in 10 people don’t have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.

UNHCR has nonetheless certified certain parts of the country as safe for return, including Kismayo. But even its own analysts acknowledge that this is mostly wishful thinking. “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement,” UNHCR noted in a May security assessment for southern and central Somalia.

Without adequate job prospects or social services, Somali officials say male returnees are at risk for recruitment by al-Shabab. “I wouldn’t rule out that some would join the extremists,” said Ahmed Nur, the head of Somalia’s national commission for refugees and internally displaced people, who estimates that around 10 percent of returnees to the Mogadishu area are already living in displacement camps.

In Kismayo, U.N. and other aid workers estimate that the figure for people who end up homeless is closer to 15 percent. Hundreds of returnees from Dadaab have streamed into displacement camps, 86 of which are scattered around the city, according to the regional government. At one called Tawfiq, or “Unity,” dozens of makeshift dwellings, rigged up with empty grain sacks and whatever else residents could get their hands on, are arrayed across yellow sand dunes that descend into the ocean. Of the 200 families who eke out a living here, 60 are returnees from Dadaab.

“It is worse than Dadaab. There is no water, no sanitation,” said Ahmed Mohamed Abubakar, who fled fighting in Kismayo with his family in 2009 but returned this year with the assistance of UNHCR. “This is my country, but there is nothing for me here. I am homeless, wandering.”

eturnees described multiple pressures that forced them to leave Dadaab. Intimidation by Kenyan security forces, whom returnees blame for whipping up rumors of forced evictions, left many convinced they could face physical violence if they remained. Many said their community leaders in the camp had told them unambiguously that Kenyan authorities were saying it was time to leave. The appointment of army generals to the government committee tasked with closing Dadaab registered as a clear warning: Stay after Nov. 30, the government’s deadline for closure, and risk being caught up in a military operation to clear the camp.

“We were afraid they would come with trucks, with soldiers,” said Abii, who spoke quickly and animatedly, orange nail polish glinting in the sun.

Unable to answer the question of what would happen after the government’s deadline, aid agencies did little to assuage people’s fears. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme’s 2015 decision to cut food rations by 30 percent began to look in retrospect to some residents like a covert plan to starve them out.

“The only option was to take the little money UNHCR was giving if you left,” Abubakar said. “People were going hungry in Dadaab.”

Mark Yarnell, whose work at the advocacy group Refugees International focuses on Somalia, said the repatriation process amounted to a clear violation of international humanitarian law. “It’s a sham to call it voluntary return when you have the Kenyans waging an effective information campaign to instill fear, and then you have UNHCR providing inducements for people to return to a place that’s unstable and unsafe,” he said.

The Kenyan Interior Ministry did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in the past it has denied that the repatriations are anything but voluntary and humane. However, officials have repeatedly skirted the issue of what will happen to those refugees who wish to remain. In July, Haro Kamau, the deputy commissioner of Garissa County who oversees Dadaab,told FP that it “would be very unkind for any refugee to refuse to go home.”

The U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support refugees in Dadaab over the years. It has also called on the Kenyan government to back off its plan to close the camp by Nov. 30. At the same time, however, it supports UNHCR’s repatriation efforts. On a visit to Nairobi last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional $29 million specifically to help facilitate the return of refugees to Somalia.

“We are very concerned by reports that refugee returns from the Dadaab camps in Kenya to Somalia are not truly voluntary,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told FP in a written statement. “In consultations with both UNHCR and the Government of Kenya, we have stressed the imperative that those individuals enlisting in the voluntary return program are doing so with full knowledge of what they can likely expect in Somalia.”

UNHCR continues to defend the repatriation process as consistent with its mandate to ensure that all returns are voluntary, safe, and dignified. It has acknowledged unspecified “concerns” raised by human rights advocates but says it is working closely with the Kenyan government to guarantee that refugees’ rights are respected.

“UNHCR is not promoting returns to Somalia but facilitating the movements of those who make an informed and therefore voluntary decision to return, by providing travel assistance, cash grants and an in-kind assistance package,” Catherine Hamon Sharpe, UNHCR’s assistant representative in Kenya, said in a written statement to FP. “The fact that the Government of Kenya has set 30 November as a deadline for the closure of the camp and that no alternative has been provided, obviously creates anxiety among refugees, as a voluntary process cannot be time-bound. It is noted however, that the Government has repeatedly stated that there will be no forced returns.”

UNHCR’s insistence that a voluntary process cannot be time-bound but that this particular time-bound process is entirely voluntary succinctly demonstrates the corner the agency has backed itself into. In private, current and former UNHCR officials say they were faced with an impossible choice when the Kenyan government made clear that it was serious about closing the camp: If they recused themselves from the process, the Kenyan government might have started its own mass deportations that could have precipitated a humanitarian disaster. But a “humanitarian disaster” is precisely what the regional government in Kismayo — the Jubaland administration — has called the U.N.’s existing repatriation program.

“There was this sense that we were preventing the worst-case scenario, which maybe we are,” said a UNHCR official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But you could also argue that we are approaching a worst-case scenario anyway.”

Whether or not it’s making the best of a bad situation, UNHCR’s actions provide political cover to a Kenyan government that has long viewed this refugee population as a nuisance. And as the campaign of intimidation has intensified, the agency has found itself on the wrong side of international agreements and norms that it’s duty-bound to uphold.

“The approach that’s been taken up until now has been characterized by a lack of honesty,” said Jeff Crisp, a former head of policy development and evaluation at UNHCR who is now affiliated with the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. “If UNHCR feels obliged, for one reason or another, good or bad, to get involved in an operation that doesn’t meet its own standards, which it’s put up in public, then it’s got to explain what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. But my sense over the last few weeks is that they’re trying to fudge this.”

But it’s not just that UNHCR has obscured the apparently involuntary nature of the repatriations; it has downplayed the abysmal and often unsafe conditions that await returnees, as well as its extremely limited ability to support them. Abubakar and other former residents of Dadaab complained bitterly that they had been abandoned by the aid agencies, which they believed would do much more to ease the transition to their shattered home country.

“UNHCR promised they would give us shelter and schools for our children,” said Abubakar, who once manned a small shop in town but is now unable to find work. “But we came here and got nothing. The promises, they were false.”

Some returnees said they had been given false information about the safety of their home regions, arriving in Kismayo only to discover that their ancestral villages were still controlled by al-Shabab. Virtually everyone said they were going hungry and that the financial support they received from international organizations — an initial lump sum from UNHCR of a few hundred dollars per household, plus a $200 monthly lifeline for the first six months, redeemable with a World Food Programme (WFP) ration card — wasn’t nearly enough. Local vendors are said to regularly hike prices for anyone who tries to pay using the ration cards.

Challiss McDonough, a spokeswoman for WFP, said the organization is currently investigating reports of price fixing in Kismayo and that retailers have been warned against this behavior. “Anywhere we do cash-based transfers, we have robust monitoring of the retailers to avoid price gouging, for example including spot checks,” she said in a statement to FP.

Yet returnees say they continue to go hungry as unscrupulous vendors cash in on the aid that was supposed to sustain them. “They know we are vulnerable,” Abii said. “They see the WFP card, and the price is suddenly double.”

Conditions have gotten so bad for returnees that the Jubaland administration suspended all return convoys from Dadaab last month. It says it won’t accept any more until UNHCR and other aid agencies can ensure a minimum level of support.

“Jubaland has requested a halt of returns until we get solutions. Before they start again, we need basic services in place: water, sanitation, housing,” said Yusuf, the mayor of Kismayo, who joked that he didn’t want the U.S. taxpayers funding the UNHCR-led repatriation process to “feel let down.”

Yusuf says his administration has set aside land for the returnees but that aid agencies have not made good on their promises to build housing and sanitation. Negotiations are ongoing among the Jubaland administration, the Kenyan government, and UNHCR to resume repatriations to Kismayo.

In the meantime, flights from Dadaab to Mogadishu continue to land several times per week. Passengers leave behind a hard life in the camp, but one with a semblance of a safety net provided by aid agencies. They begin a new one with fewer lifelines, in a place that is less forgiving. Often, it appears, they do so against their will and in violation of international humanitarian law.

Top Image: TOBIN JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Ty McCormick is Africa Editor at Foreign Policy (@TyMcCormick)

Huffington Post: Why Kenya Announced An Unrealistic But Alarming Plan To Rid The Country Of Refugees

Read the original article here.

 

Why Kenya Announced An Unrealistic But Alarming Plan To Rid The Country Of Refugees

Aid groups warn that forcing hundreds of thousands of refugees out would create instability and a humanitarian disaster.

 05/13/2016 08:05 pm ET
Charlotte Alfred World Reporter, The Huffington Post

When Kenya threatened last Friday to shut down the largest refugee camp in the world and rid the country of over half a million refugees, many people initially questioned whether it was serious.

The practicalities just didn’t make sense. Over 350,000 people live in Dadaab, a network of camps in Kenya’s northeastern desert, and around 150,000 more live in Kenya’s second refugee camp, Kakuma.

It would take a huge amount of money and manpower to dismantle the thousands of tents, huts and buildings in Dadaab, which today include shops and cinemas, churches and mosques. Even more difficult is the prospect of forcibly uprooting hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom have spent their whole lives in the camps.

“Actually closing Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps would be like wiping two large cities off the face of the earth,” said Mark Yarnell, senior advocate at Washington, D.C.-based Refugees International.

“Moving ahead with a forced shutdown of the camps would create a humanitarian disaster of massive proportions,” he told The WorldPost.

Kenya has threatened to shut down refugee camps in the country twice before in recent years before backtracking. Yet refugees, aid agencies and the United Nations are now grappling with the possibility that the government might actually follow through this time.

The first sign was when Kenya dissolved its Department of Refugee Affairs overnight. Then, it formed a task force on Wednesday to manage the closure of Dadaab (without mentioning Kakuma or other refugees in the country), and said it was putting $10 million toward the effort. A Kenyan interior ministry official said the first group of refugees would leave Dadaab by November, and the camp would be fully closed by next May.

Even so, experts say Kenya’s plan still doesn’t add up.

They were highly skeptical of the government’s claim that refugees would leave voluntarily. “It is difficult to imagine hundreds of thousands of refugees leaving in a short time and in conditions of a voluntary nature,” said Duke Mwancha, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman in Kenya. He said the U.N. agency would not take part in any forced return operation, which is illegal under international law.

Then there’s the question of where the refugees will go. Most of Dadaab’s residents are from neighboring Somalia, a country with a fragile government and frequent attacks by Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. While Kenya says Somalia is now safe, many Somalis fear returning. If forced back to the country, they could easily just slip back over the porous border into Kenya.

Kenyan officials said some refugees could be moved to other, safer countries, but it wasn’t clear which countries would accept them; Kenya’s neighbors already have large refugee populations.

Since the camp was established following Somalia’s 1991 civil war, a whole generation of has grown up in the camp. “Dadaab is the only home we know,” Somali refugee Hassan wrote in Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation this week. The closure announcement “has left many like me wondering whether we will now be truly homeless.”

Kenya says it is necessary to close Dadaab refugee camp because it has been infiltrated by al-Shabaab, which has waged deadly attacks inside Kenya and poses a security threat to the country. Refugee advocates say these claims are overblown for political reasons, and closing the camp could actually have the reverse effect on regional stability.

“Kenya says their goal is to increase security, but to force hundreds of thousands of people into an insecure area would only create insecurity,” Yarnell told The WorldPost.

Somalia on Thursday warned Kenya against sending refugees back over the border. “The move will make the threat of terrorism worse, not better, given the volatile situation this decision and the proposed subsequent actions will cause,” astatement from the Somali foreign ministry said.

Some analysts suspect that Kenya is manufacturing a crisis over refugees to send a message to the international community that it needs to step up funding for refugees, and to accelerate official procedures to resettle them elsewhere.

Refugee experts acknowledge these concerns are valid. While world attention has been consumed with the refugee crisis on Europe’s borders, the vast majority of refugees live in developing nations like Kenya. Dadaab is overcrowded, underfunded, and has faced frequent food ration cuts.

“This is what happens when the West does not exercise global leadership [over refugees],” said Ben Rawlence, the author of the book City Of Thorns, which tells the stories of refugees in Dadaab. “We can’t expect countries to help refugees when we’re not doing our share.”

Kenyan officials have pointed to Europe’s hypocrisy over the global refugee crisis in statements about the closure of Dadaab.

“There has been a fall-off in the voluntary international funding for the camps in Kenya, in favour of raising budgets in the northern hemisphere to refugees headed to the West,” Kenya’s Principal Secretary for the Interior wrote in an editorial defending the policy this week. “International obligations in Africa should not be done on the cheap; the world continues to learn the ruinous effect of these persistent double standards.”

Further, Europe’s reaction to the refugee crisis, especially the recent deal to stop refugees leaving Turkey in exchange for refugee aid, sets a cynical precedent that Kenya is following, refugee advocates say.

“This is happening in a global context where refugees have become trading chips in political negotiations,” Yarnell said. “When Turkey gets paid $6 billion to stem the flow of refugees from their country, it becomes more difficult for international actors to say this is inappropriate.”

Doctors Without Borders on Friday urged Kenya to fight the West’s double-standards by setting a good example to Europe. “Rather than endorsing the broken and inhumane policies of the EU and others, now, more than ever, is the time for Kenya to embrace and continue its tradition of providing refuge,” the medical aid group said in a statement.

There may be other political factors behind the timing of the announcement. Kenya contributes some 3,500 troops to the African Union force in Somalia, which needs its mandate renewed by the U.N. by the end of the month.

Additionally, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta kicked off his campaign for re-election in 2017 the week before the announcement. “By scoring political points through blaming refugees, [Kenya’s politicians] are taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook,” Yarnell said.

Human rights groups are concerned that Kenyan politicians’ statements this week linking the camps to terrorism will bring a backlash against refugees. “This has increased the negative and xenophobic attitude against Somali refugees,” said Victor Nyamori, Amnesty International’s refugee officer in Kenya. “Refugees should not be used as a scapegoat for security challenges.”

They also fear the police will exploit the threat of expulsion to step up arrests of refugees and demands for bribes to avoid arrest, as had happened in the past, after terror attacks or government warnings about refugees. Community leaders have already reported increased police harassment of refugees since last Friday’s announcement, particularly in urban areas like Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood, Nyamori said.

“The mere statement [of closing refugee camps] gives blanket cover for security forces to commit extortion against refugees,” Yarnell said. “Somalis are targeted by police for extortion, especially in Eastleigh, because they are vulnerable — they are even referred to as human ATMs by the police.”

The government’s move to close the Department of Refugee Affairs has also taken a toll on refugees in Kenya. They depended on the bureau to get permits to move around the country, including for medical treatment. Doctors Without Borders said at least four of its patients in Dabaab had been waiting for emergency referrals since last week. The department was also responsible for registering new refugees arriving in Kenya, and around 2,000 people who fled South Sudan were already unable to register this week, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“This is unbelievable...everyone is just stunned and really sad,” Abdullahi Aden Hassan, a spokesman of refugees in Dadaab, told The Guardian. “There is still war going on in so many parts of Somalia. It is simply too dangerous to return at this time.”

VOA: Lack of Action to Help Migrants in Europe Plays Into Smugglers' Hands

Mark Yarnell spoke with VOA about the situation for refugees and migrants on border of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Thousands of people are stuck on Greece's border with Macedonia, told that only those who can prove they are escaping war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan can pass. These so-called economic migrants from Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh have nowhere to go. With refugees and migrants expected to continue arriving in Europe via Greece over the winter, observers say it is imperative that the situation be managed in such a way as to minimize the risks of new problems. VOA's Jane Bojadzievski has more.

Huffington Post: Alighting on Shore with a Wave of Emotion

Eileen Shields-West
Chair of the Board at Refugees International

Trained as a journalist, I was always told to stand a little apart from the story, not to get too wrapped up in the moment. But, what I witnessed last week, along with Refugees International advocate Mark Yarnell, consultant Renata Rendon and Board vice chair Elizabeth Galvin on the Greek island of Lesvos was truly overwhelming. And I was not the only one. Mark who has been with RI for four years said: "I have never encountered a scene like the one we saw on the north coast of Lesvos. That was truly mind blowing and it was important to see it for ourselves." The Mercy Corps protection officer who took us to the coastal town of Skala Sykamias for the arrival of "boats" from Turkey asked me to feel her pounding heart: "It always happens like this. I cannot help it."

At once, the scene was beautiful, poignant and tragic. The boats arrive -- mostly overladen, deflating rafts -- creeping their way to the shore. When the weather is good, you can spy them half a mile away, a vision of orange on the blue sea. As the raft approaches, volunteers on the shore will start waving bright flags to guide the boats to a safe landing, and the Greek coast guard or civilian boats will ride alongside to prevent any last minute tragedy -- someone falling overboard or the boat completely deflating.

There are about 40 to 50 individuals on each of these rickety boats. Men, women, infants pressed shoulder to shoulder, each one wearing a life jacket. This day the color was orange, but near the shoreline there were piles of discarded hues, thrown off upon landing safely.

As soon as the boat touches land, volunteers wade out into the water, forming a human chain, carrying babies, pregnant women and the disabled to shore. They are greeted with a wave of emotion, having survived this leg of their journey. So far in 2015, there have been about 730,000 arrivals to Greece by sea. Around 430,000 of those have landed on Lesvos, because of its proximity to the Turkish coast. In fact, Skala is only about six miles off of Turkey, but the journey can take 45 minutes to four hours, often in the dark of night with treacherous seas. Hundreds have died on this trek and many families have been separated on the journey, with stories of smugglers pushing some family members into one boat and others into another. They come with nothing but what they can carry, often having suitcases with their precious belongings yanked from their hands at the last moment so that more people can be shoved on to the rafts.

When we arrived on Lesvos on Sunday, November 22, there was an eerie lull in the flow of refugees and migrants. Nobody could explain it. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, 135,000 had arrived on the island's shores in October or about 4,500 each day -- a record high. In the first two weeks of November the number slowed to about 3,300 daily. And now, almost none were coming. There were several theories. The weather could be a factor -- a fierce wind was blowing in the wrong direction, but that had happened before. Another thought was that the Turkish government was finally cracking down on smugglers, because the European Union (the EU) was putting pressure on it to do so. (Actually, that is now happening. Just yesterday, the Turkish coast guard arrested around 1,300 refugees and migrants and three smugglers near Ayvacik, the place in Turkey from which the crowded boats launch for Lesvos. This probably resulted from an agreement between Turkey and the EU, signed on Sunday, November 29, wherein Turkey will try to halt the flow in exchange for $3 billion in aid for 2.2 million Syrians already in Turkey.) The third possible reason for the lull was quite simple: the supply of inflatable rafts had dried up. After all, between 8000 and 10,000 have found their way to Lesvos alone this year. Few of these boats ever make a return trip and now, slashed and deflated, are littering the Greek coast.

But by mid-week last week, refugees and migrants were again coming to shore by the thousands and we hear that the numbers are continuing today. Smugglers on the Turkish side often charge upwards of 900 Euros ($954) for adults and 400 ($424) Euros for children. The Syrian couple we met had paid $2800 for their five young children and themselves and made it in two hours. They had fled Damascus weeks ago, spent a full month in Istanbul making connections and awaiting word. Like most of those we met, they are not intending to stay in Greece. Their destination is Germany.

With winter coming on, it is difficult to know if this is an impossible dream or not. Sitting outside the relief site where they will receive free bus tickets to Mytilene, the capital, and then be able to buy ferry tickets to Piraeus on the Greek mainland, this Syrian family was relishing one small victory.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently wrote about the presidential contest: "We all need to be stirred. We need to know and believe the breakthrough is possible, the fight against the odds will end in victory, something good is just around the corner." In fact, this sentiment applies across our lives. For those standing on the shores of Lesvos as these boats arrived one after the other -- Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis crammed shoulder to shoulder -- it was stirring.

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