Monday, 09 August 2010

Somali Refugees: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

Written by  Hussein Moulid Bosh

As the situation in war-torn Somalia worsens, some governments whose countries host Somali refugees announced their intention to deport Somalis to their homeland. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and many human right groups are opposed to deportation of these refugees, but they are largely being ignored.

UNHCR issued an urgent appeal to governments everywhere not to forcibly return people to Somalia, but countries hosting refugees were returning refugees nonetheless, putting lives at risk. Some countries pay no attention on those issues.

UNHCR warned governments against forced returns to Somalia in May. But in June, some 1,000 Somalis were deported from Saudi Arabia. For July, the total so far of reported forced returns from Saudi Arabia is already estimated to be close to 2,000 people.

"UNHCR considers such deportations to be incompatible with UNHCR's guidelines on international protection needs of Somali refugees and asylum seekers. Given the deadly violence in Mogadishu, UNHCR is urging the Saudi authorities to refrain from future deportations on humanitarian grounds," Fleming said. "We are in dialogue with the Saudi authorities on introducing a joint screening procedure before decisions on deportations to Mogadishu are taken. This would be an encouraging measure," she added.

The majority of deportees fled Somalia owing to conflict, indiscriminate violence, and human rights abuses. Most said they originate from southern and central Somalia, including Mogadishu.

Most of the deportees are women, including some extremely vulnerable cases, such as that of a young woman who fled the violence in Somalia in 2007, who was detained on her way to the market in Saudi Arabia and deported back to Mogadishu with her two infants.

More than 300,000 out of Somalia's estimated 1.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) are sheltering in Mogadishu alone. Most of the displaced live in poor and degrading conditions on makeshift sites in southern and central Somalia.
In July, the Dutch authorities announced their intention to deport, by October, at least eight Somalis whose claims for asylum have been rejected.

Returning those people is not just risky, it's a potential death sentence, the UN refugee agency said.

The government of The Netherlands has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Somali transitional government that supposedly forms the basis for these returns. The Dutch government is refusing to abide by an order of the District Court of Amsterdam to make the memorandum public, citing a need to protect its diplomatic relations with Somalia.
Critics of the plan are making their voices heard. "A piece of paper signed by the transitional government won't protect people returned forcibly to Somalia," said Leslie Lefkow, senior Horn of Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Mogadishu is one of the world's most dangerous places, and the situation in Somalia has been worsening for some time, with food aid having been suspended in January by the World Food Programme and fighting being reported almost daily in the capital, Mogadishu.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) suspended its assistance for voluntary returns to Somalia in June 2008 owing to concerns about security.

On June 3, the European Court of Human Rights ordered The Netherlands to suspend deportation of a Somali asylum seeker to Greece due to concerns that Greece might forcibly return him to Somalia without a proper review of his asylum claim, and on June 11 the court also instructed The Netherlands to suspend the deportation of another Somali to Somalia pending a review of his case by the court. Under the European Union's Dublin II regulations, the country where a person first entered the EU is generally held responsible for examining that person's asylum claim.

"Everyone agrees: there is no reasonable way to return people to the chaos of Somalia," Lefkow said. "The Dutch government should immediately suspend all plans to deport Somalis and consider alternative protection measures for rejected asylum seekers."

The New American interviewed one of the Somali refugees who was deported by the Yemen authorities.
“I have been deported twice by the Yemeni government in 2009; I took a boat with more than one hundred Somalis to Yemen when the insurgents started applying harsh laws (arrest, public flogging, or both),” said Amina Ahmed.

Amina explained how she survived after being sent back to her homeland. “When I reached Somalia, I was so worried and I asked myself what is next? But luckily I got a vehicle that was en route to neighboring Kenya.”

“For many Somalis, taking the dangerous voyage across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen is the only option to have a peace of mind from the Al-Shabaab cruelties. We know it’s too risky but what can we do?  I saw many Somalis who perished through this risky journey,” Amina added.

Most of the Somali and other foreign immigrants used to sail from the commercial port town of Bosaso to Yemen, but it was a dangerous trek: People often lost their lives between Yemen and the Somali coast in the north as the smugglers many times ordered the people to throw themselves overboard or just killed them in the middle of the sea.

There are now 600,484 Somali refugees, mainly in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania, and Uganda, plus 1.4 million Somalis displaced within the country.

In an interview with The New American, an elderly woman who has lived in Dadaab refugee’s camp for over one decade said her son joined the insurgents after he was forcible deported by Kenyan security. “My son was arrested by Kenyan Security and deported back to Somalia in 2009, I don’t know if he is alive or not but I heard some rumors that he joined Islamic movement Al-shabaab,” 65-year-old Sofia Ahmed said.

Terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab continue to radicalize and recruit Somali youths and others to train and fight the UN-backed transitional government.

On March 31, the Kenya security expelled another busload. 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 obliged not to send refugees back to situations of generalized violence such as in Somalia.

The deportations also violate the most fundamental principle of refugee law, the prohibition on refoulement — the forcible return to a place where a person faces a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

Somalia has been without effective government since 1991 when the regime of President Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted, since then, various warring factions have been fighting for control of the country.


Hussein Moulid Bosh is a Kenyan-born Somali freelance journalist, covering stories around East Africa and also the Horn of Africa countries, especially Somalia.

Photo: Hussein Moulid Bosh

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