, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 4 – Human Rights Watch has once again accused the Kenyan Police of deporting Somali asylum seekers less than a week after police headquarters denied the claims.
A statement from New York based human rights group on Saturday said that last Tuesday the police expelled a busload with 31 asylum seekers, a day after police spokesman Eric Kiraithe denied the claims.
“Deporting asylum seekers, including women and children, who are trying to escape appalling violence in their country puts Kenya to shame,” said Gerry Simpson, refugees’ researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The police publicly proclaimed on March 30 that Kenya treats all refugees with ‘due care and dignity,’ and the very next day sent another 31 of them back into a war zone.”
The deportations, the statement stated, are in violation of both Kenyan and international law. “Kenya should immediately stop deporting Somali asylum seekers, including women and children, back to their war-torn country. The country should recognise all Somalis who qualify as refugees with rights to protection in Kenya.”
On Monday, HRW released a damning report describing conditions for the Somalis in the overcrowded refugee camps near Daadab and documenting dozens of cases of forced returns of asylum seekers and refugees from the border areas. Hours later the police refuted accusations maintaining that they treat all refugees with due care and dignity.
Citing security concerns, Kenya officially closed its 682-kilometer border with Somalia in January 2007, when Ethiopian troops intervened in support of Somalia’s weak transitional government and ousted a coalition of Islamic courts from Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.
This was followed by the closure of a refugee transit center where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was registering new refugees as soon as they entered Kenya. Under Kenyan law, asylum seekers escaping violence in Somalia are entitled to request the government or UNHCR to recognize them as refugees, either in refugee camps or in Nairobi.
According to the report, on March 23, 2009, the Kenyan military intercepted a bus with 61 Somali asylum seekers, took them to a police station in the northeastern town of Dadaab, and then forced them back into Somalia. Those forced back into Somalia included 33 women and 28 children.
Under the 1969 African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of the Refugee Problems in Africa, Kenya is further obliged not to send refugees back to situations of generalized violence such as in Somalia.
“Kenya has legitimate security concerns and a right to control its borders, but its borders can’t be closed to refugees fleeing fighting and persecution,” said Mr Simpson. “The border closure has only made Somali refugees more vulnerable to police abuse and deportation and lessened the government’s control over who enters Kenya and who is registered in refugee camps inside Kenya.”
During the past two years an escalating armed conflict by Ethiopian and Somali government forces against an insurgency, resulting in numerous war crimes and human rights abuses, has forced almost 1 million residents of Mogadishu to flee and provoked a growing influx of Somali refugees into Kenya.
Human Rights Watch challenged donors to press Kenya to respect the rights of refugees.