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Amnesty International defends refugees in Kenya

tents in refugee camp
Dabaad refugee camp Care Kenya

The Kenyan government’s plans to repatriate its Somali refugees have received heavy criticism from Amnesty International.

More than one million refugees from Somalia are putting a heavy strain on neighbouring countries. Within Somalia itself, 1.1 million people remain displaced, 80 per cent of whom are in the conflict areas in the south and middle of the country.

Acts of terrorism have increased in Kenya since its defence forces (KDF) were deployed to Somalia with the premise of combating the Al-Shabaab militant group. Some of the group are believed to have joined the refugee camps in Kenya. Kenya’s government believes that a spate of grenade attacks and an increase in violence within its borders are due to Al-Shabaab imposters coming in as refugees.

Dadaab refugee complex in the northeast of Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the world. It poses monumental challenges for the Kenyan authorities, which disproportionately shoulder the responsibility for the flows of displaced people.

If this repatriation decision is approved, it could cause more tension between the two countries. Kenya has played a significant role in ensuring that peace prevails in Somalia and, at least for now, it has formed its own government that can run the country and protect its people.

There has been some return of internally displaced people and refugees, both spontaneous and assisted voluntary returns – though these are few and areas of return are still marred by conflict and insecurity.

Amnesty International is opposed to the Kenyan government’s plans. The organization, which fights for human rights internationally, said Kenya is making the world an increasingly dangerous place for refugees and asylum-seekers, especially in East Africa.

Amnesty says that the rights of millions of people who have escaped conflict and persecution have been abused. According to Justus Nyang’aya, Director of Amnesty International in Kenya, governments around the world are accused of showing more interest in protecting their national borders than the rights of their citizens, or the rights of those seeking refuge.

‘In Kenya, Somali refugees and asylum-seekers continue to be harassed and arbitrarily detained by the security services and are routinely the targets of xenophobic violence. Much of this is fuelled by populist rhetoric that targets refugees and scapegoats them for the government’s domestic difficulties,’ Nyang’aya said.

He recalled that in 2012, Kenya came under criticism for continuing to block the registration of people at the borders of Somalia and Kenya. This left people forced to walk up to 100 kilometres from the border in order to seek asylum, risking rape, violence and extortion.

Local NGO Kituo cha Sheria is trying to obtain a court injunction against implementation of the government’s directive, and the case is currently ongoing.

‘I am afraid that if implemented, this restriction of freedom of movement is likely to lead to other serious human right abuses in already overcrowded, insecure refugee camps,’ Nyang’aya said.

The organization emphasized: ‘Refugees and displaced people can no longer be “out of sight, out of mind”. Their protection falls to all of us.’

Amnesty International is calling on Kenya to resume registration at the border and in urban centres, and to cease all threats to forcibly return all residents to Somalia.

This issue is not confined to Kenya alone. In 2012 the global community witnessed a range of human rights emergencies that forced large numbers of people to seek safety within states or across borders. From continued insecurity in Somalia to Mali, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, people fled their homes in the hope of finding a safe haven.

The European Union implements border control measures that put the lives of asylum- seekers at risk and fails to guarantee the safety of those fleeing conflict and persecution. Around the world, asylum-seekers are regularly locked up in detention centres and in worst-case scenarios are held in metal crates or even shipping containers.

‘It is unacceptable that the world’s poorest countries continue to shoulder the largest responsibly for refugees, while the European Union only offers between 4,000 and 5,000 resettlement places each year,’ said Nyang’aya.

‘Those who live outside their countries, without wealth or status, are the world’s most vulnerable people but they are often condemned to desperate lives in the shadows.

‘The world cannot afford no-go zones in the global demand for human rights. Human rights protection must be applied to all human beings, wherever they are.’

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