UN refugee agency calls on Kenya to halt forcible return of Somalis fleeing fighting

UN refugee agency calls on Kenya to halt forcible return of Somalis fleeing fighting

Somali refugees
The United Nations refugee agency today called on Kenya to allow Somalis “at risk” to enter its territory following reports that Kenyan authorities were forcibly returning people fleeing the recent fighting in their homeland.

The United Nations refugee agency today called on Kenya to allow Somalis “at risk” to enter its territory following reports that Kenyan authorities were forcibly returning people fleeing the recent fighting in their homeland.

“We fully appreciate that the situation in neighbouring Somalia is a serious concern to the Kenyan authorities and that governments have a responsibility to ensure border security in such situations,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said.

“But Kenya also has a humanitarian obligation to allow civilians at risk to seek asylum on its territory. Most of those [at a UNHCR-supported border reception centre] in Liboi are women and children and they should not be sent back to a very uncertain situation.

“To do so would be a transgression of the principle of non-refoulement as defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention,” under which no refugees or asylum seekers whose cases have not yet been properly assessed can be forcibly returned to a country where their life or liberty could be in danger, he added, noting that UNHCR had already offered Kenya immediate expertise and support in dealing with new arrivals.

Several trucks carrying Somalis who had sought refuge in Liboi were seen heading back towards Somalia this morning, UNHCR said. The reception centre had been holding some 400 Somali asylum seekers, primarily women and children, who arrived over the past week.

About half the 400 Somalis had already been screened and registered by Kenyan authorities in a procedure previously agreed with UNHCR. Once they have been registered at the border reception centre, UNHCR normally transfers them to the Dadaab camps, which are already hosting more than 160,000 mainly Somali refugees. But Kenyan authorities, citing security concerns, this week halted the transfers and announced the border had been closed.

Meanwhile the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that its operations to feed up to half a million flood victims in Somalia have started to return to normal after being disrupted over the last two weeks by the fighting between the Ethiopian-backed transitional government and Islamic groups.

The UN is trying to estimate the levels of civilian displacement caused by the fighting. Most displacement within Somalia appears to have been fairly localized and people moved back home after security was re-established.

UN passenger and cargo flights, which are managed by WFP, resumed on Friday from Nairobi to Somalia after a two-day suspension although flights to Mogadishu, the capital, cannot start until an assessment by the UN Department of Safety and Security.

National staff were flown yesterday to WFP's logistics base in the southern Somali town of Wajid after the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) allowed humanitarian flights to resume.

Food distributions to flood-affected people in Afmadow district of southern Somalia resumed on Monday. In flood-affected areas, water levels are lower and WFP is exploring the possibility of resuming helicopter operations to reach locations that are still inaccessible by land.

WFP is also investigating the viability of resuming food delivery by boat. It is doubtful that airdrops from the Kenyan port of Mombasa will resume in Somalia given the improved road access and the relative expense of airdrops.