NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Somalia has pulled out of talks with Kenya in protest at Kenya’s illegal deportation of Somali refugees living in Kenyan cities, while Amnesty International condemned Kenya for making them “scapegoats” in its counter-terror operation.
Meetings were due to take place on Saturday and Tuesday to oversee the gradual and voluntary return to their homeland from Kenya of half a million Somali refugees, in line with an agreement signed in November. But Somalia’s foreign affairs ministry refused to attend the meeting because of Kenya’s mass arrests and deportation of Somalis over the last two months.
“As we are concerned about the plight of Somali refugees and the unlawful activities committed by the Kenyan security forces against the refugees of Somalia in Kenya, we cannot attend such a meeting,” the Somali website raxanreeb.com said on Tuesday.
Josphat Maikara, Kenya’s ambassador to Somalia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation the meeting had been postponed at the request of the Somali government.
Over the last two months, Kenyan authorities have deported 359 people to Somalia in a bid to end attacks by Islamist militants carried out in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in the war-torn neighbouring state. They have also rounded up 2,100 people, mostly Somalis, living in urban areas and sent them to overcrowded camps on Kenya's northern border, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said.
International law prohibits governments from returning people to countries where their life or freedom will be threatened.
Somalis have faced an increasingly hostile environment in Kenya following a string of attacks on Kenyan soil by Somalia-based militant group al Shabaab – particularly its deadly assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September.
Kenyan police arrested more than 4,000 suspected “illegal aliens and criminals” in the first week of the security operation, cabinet secretary for the interior Joseph ole Lenku said. Many were held in overcrowded cells for long periods and were subject to extortion, while children have been separated from their parents, rights groups said.
Somali refugees have become scapegoats in Kenya’s counter-terrorism operation, Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday.
“The operation seems to be a pretext for the blanket targeting of the Somali community,” it said.
“Targeting a specific community does not serve national security interests, and indeed may cause further insecurity in Kenya.”
Beating and intimidation have been a regular part of the search operations, it said. One baby girl died after being left alone in a house for three days because her mother had been arrested on her way back from a shop, the report said.
The UNHCR, one of the signatories to the agreement, called for Kenya and Somalia to resume their dialogue.
“This is the most important forum and initiative in place to ensure that voluntariness will guide refugee returns and that those wishing to return to Somalia can do so in a safe and dignified manner,” Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR representative in Somalia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The way forward is to ensure that there is a strong dialogue and discussions on all aspects of returns and reintegration in Somalia.”
The number of refugees who have fled Somalia - 1.1 million - is the third highest in the world after Afghanistan and Syria. Some families have lived in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya, for three generations.