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Today from Hiiraan Online:
Kenya must not send refugees back to Somalia -rights group
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Somalis fleeing drought and persecution are living in terrible conditions on the outskirts of Kenya’s massive Dadaab refugee camp, following the government’s decision to stop registering new arrivals, a rights group says.
“We’re hearing of women and kids having to live on the outskirts of camps without proper shelters and more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, and even attacks by wild animals,” Refugees International advocate Melanie Teff told AlertNet.
Refugees International is calling on Kenya to resume registration of new arrivals from Somalia, which Nairobi stopped last October as part of a security effort to prevent members of al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabaab taking up residence at the camp.
Kenya, which has sent troops into Somalia to fight al Shabaab, says it wants humanitarian agencies to start resettling refugees in areas of Somalia it says it has secured.
But Teff urged Kenya not to send refugees back, saying security was still far too precarious.
Teff said the decision to stop registrations at Dadaab had not only forced people into desperate circumstances but had actually worsened security. As it is no longer screening new arrivals, Kenya has no record of who is living in the vicinity of the camp, she said.
Dadaab, which is a collection of camps the size of a city, is located in the arid east of Kenya. It was built for 90,000 people but is now home to around 463,000 registered Somalis, making it the world’s largest refugee camp.
No one knows how many unregistered people are living around the camp. The official estimate is 1,300 but Refugees International thinks the real figure is much higher.
Unable to get full access to aid on their own, many recent arrivals are relying on registered refugees for food and help, said Teff, who visited the region last month.
The aid workers she spoke to said many of those who turned up after registration stopped were in very bad shape, having been weakened by months of malnutrition.
KENYA WANTS REFUGEES TO GO HOME
Kenya, which has borne the brunt of Somalia's exodus over the last two decades, has said it wants to wind down Dadaab.
"We definitely want the refugees to go home. We want them out yesterday," Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told Reuters in February.
But most aid agencies say Somalia is not ready to take back refugees.
“Large scale returns are not realistic any time soon,” Teff said.
Although the United Nations declared last month that Somalia’s famine had ended, Teff said there were still significant food shortages and displacement had risen in the last few months due to military operations such as those by African Union troops fighting rebels to the south of the capital Mogadishu.
“Also, our understanding is that most of the refugees in Dadaab are not from those so-called liberated areas so you will be moving back refugees in Kenya to become IDPs (internally displaced) in Somalia, where they will have even more difficulty accessing services than they have now,” Teff added.
But she stressed Kenya had been a very generous host for 20 years and that it was also up to the international community to help Kenya to continue to support the refugees.
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