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Former Somalia P.M. urges Kenya to rethink refugee policy

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Former Somali Prime Minister Dr Abdiweli Ali

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya should tread carefully before ordering Somali refugees living in urban areas to return to refugee camps, a former senior Somali government official said on Friday.

Former Somali Prime Minister Dr Abdiweli Ali told Xinhua in Nairobi that most of the Somalis resident in Kenya is law abiding and don’t support the extreme ideology of the Al-Shabaab group.

"Although the policy is understandable in the current security situation, the Kenya government should not act prematurely," Ali told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Nairobi.

The remarks come in the wake of Kenya’s government announcement requiring all Somali refugees and asylum seekers living in urban areas to return to the Dabaab refugee camp, located in northeast Kenya.

Acting Commissioner for Refugees Sora Katelo issued the directive on Thursday that all refugees living in urban areas should return to their refugee camps with immediate effect.

Katelo said the decision has been informed by rising insecurity where in some cases refugees have been implicated.

Katelo said the government has further stopped registration of asylum seekers and closed all registration centers.

UNHCR and all other agencies that offer humanitarian assistance have also been advised to stop offering their services to refugees living in urban areas and instead transfer their assistance to the refugee camps.

According to Katelo, there are over 100,000 refugees in urban areas, 60 percent of them living in Nairobi.

The directive came as six men suspected to be members of Al- Shabaab were arraigned in a Garissa court and charged with being in possession of firearms and planning to commit crime.

"One bad person should not create a bad policy to affect innocent individuals," Ali said.

"The former PM for the Horn of Africa nation added that the long term goal is that all Somalia’s refugees to return to their homeland.

"However, the environment has to be conducive before repatriation can begin," Ali, who is still serving as a Member of Parliament, said to Xinhua.

He noted that some of the refugees have been born in the refugees camps and don’t know any other home.

The East African nation is also hosting nearly half a million refugees from Somalia and has delayed their repatriation until the security situation in the country improves further.

In September, President Mwai Kibaki called on UN agencies and international organizations working in Somalia to relocate to the liberated areas and directly provide humanitarian assistance to Somalis living there.

Kibaki, who was in New York for the UN General Assembly also appealed to the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon to mobilize all relevant agencies to embark on relocating the refugees living in Kenya to liberated areas of Somalia, noting that the situation created by the presence of over 650,000 refugees in Daadab camp in Kenya was untenable.

But Ali said that Somali government’s biggest challenge is how to achieve peace, security, reconciliation and governance under the new constitution.

"We have realized that 20 years of anarchy has taken a toll on the lives and destroyed the social fabric of Somalia," the U.S.- based Niagara University Professor of Economics said.

He added that the transitional government he served overcame the Al-Shabaab threat and drought in 2011 at a time when the central and regional government were not working together.

"Somalia is still not out of the woods yet as it has to build solid institutions required to deliver social services to its residents.

"The experience of the past 20 years has shown that Somalia cannot thrive if it depends on humanitarian aid alone," he said.

The return to refugee camps order came after it emerged that over 600 people who were arrested in Nairobi last week were refugees from Dadaab refugee complex.

Nairobi Provincial Commissioner Njoroge Ndirangu said intelligence information has revealed that some of the refugees are behind a number of terror-related incidents that have been reported in the city and other parts of the country.

"More than 600 people have been arrested some of whom have been arraigned in court.

"Quite a number of them have been convicted and ordered for repatriation because many have been found to be illegal foreigners.

"The operations are still ongoing until we flush out all criminals, not just in Eastleigh, but in all parts of the country," he said on Tuesday.

There have also been rising fears among communities living along the porous border with Somalia that the Islamist group fleeing from the imminent military assault on their last bastion town of Kismayo was likely to turn their frustration on the innocent civilians in a series of revenge attacks.

The former PM noted that there is need to develop the country’s infrastructure in order to provide a conducive environment for businesses to expand.

"Our youth are being lured to join militia groups such as Al- Shabaab, piracy groups or trek across the Sahara desert in search for greener pastures in Europe or other developed countries," he said.

He added that the current administration is not a transitional government and so the international community expectations are high.

"It has four years to rebuild the country by moving the country away from fragmented and clan based politics in order to ensure the whole nation is united in one purpose," Ali said.

He added that even though the present government is the first democratically elected government in Somalia in over 20 years, it was elected by proxies.

"One of the chief mandates of the current administration is therefore to ensure the next elections are elected on the basis of one man, one vote," he said.

He added if Somalia’s application to join the East African Community (EAC) is approved, it will provide a great opportunity for the horn of Africa nation.

"Somalis’ have already shown their entrepreneurial prowess in the countries they have settled in and so the EAC will provide a bigger market to tap and take advantage off," he said.

Ali added that although Somalia was considered a failed State, it succeeded in many economic fields.

"It has one of the lowest mobile calling rates in the world and a well developed money transfer system," he said.

He noted that the international community has over the years, supported the Somalia militarily, financially and politically.

"However, it is important that the new Somalia government is given space to implement its policies as it is still in the embryonic stage of development," he said.

Ali, who is also an economist, added that he is currently in the process of establishing a private foundation to assist Somalia’s efforts in the areas of education, health and peace.

He called on the Somali government to strive to achieve accountability in order to be in a position to deliver its mandate.

Regarding Kenya-Somalia relations, he noted that both countries should develop a common strategy to defeat the Al-Shaabab terrorist organization.

"Once the militants are flushed out of Somalia they should not find a safe haven in Kenya as they have caused great damage in the region," he said.


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