Rights groups urge reopening of Kenya’s borders to Somali refugees

March 24, 2017 5:10 pm
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After spending six years in Dadaab, Somali refugee Amal decided to return to Somalia with her three-year-old twins Fawzan and Furad. © UNHCR/Assadullah Nasrullah

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 24 – As the Intergovernmental Authority on Development member states meet in Nairobi with a focus on Somali refugees, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on the Kenyan Government reopen its borders to those seeking refuge from drought and war ravaged Somalia.

The first step, the rights groups urged, being the reconstitution of the Department of Refugee Affairs as ordered by the High Court on February 9.

“The Kenyan government removed prima facie refugee status – meaning recognising refugee status based simply on nationality – for Somalis and disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs, charged with processing asylum claims.

“On February 9, Kenya’s High Court ruled that the government’s May 2016 directives were unconstitutional and discriminated against Somalis. The High Court also ordered the Kenyan Government to restore the administration of refugee affairs to the status quo prior to the government’s decision. The Kenyan Government has not taken steps to carry out the ruling. On March 8, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya repeated that Kenya’s decision to close Dadaab camp was final.”

As captured in the above quote, Kenya has maintained that Dadaab must close and at the highest levels.

“Our policy has been clear for some time, the events that led to the establishment of Dadaab are terribly tragic and the best response to that tragedy is to help refugees to return and rebuild their nation and that is Kenya’s policy and our efforts to hasten the repatriation and resettlement of refugees,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said during the March 8 visit to State House, Nairobi by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

READ: President Kenyatta tells UN chief Dadaab must close

After the February 9 court ruling on Dadaab, the Kenyan Government said it would be mounting an appeal citing the security threat that Dadaab poses to its nationals.

“You will be reminded that the key reason for the closure of the camp was that it had become the launch pad for various terrorist attacks by Al Shabaab.”

“For us as a government, Kenya will always come first. The lives of Kenyans matter,” Government Spokesman Eric Kiraithe said at the time.

READ: Kenya maintains Dadaab must close, vows ‘strong’ appeal

When it quashed the government directive on the closure of Dadaab by May, High Court judge John Mativo found that it violated the principle of non-refoulement being the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Two hundred and forty nine thousand Somali refugees currently reside in the camp.

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