A Western NGO has accused Kenya of violating international law by forcing Somali refugees to return to their impoverished and conflict-ridden country.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said on Monday that a “voluntary” process that sees Somali refugees at a huge camp inside Kenya returned to their country is no more voluntary.
“The voluntary returns process does not meet international standards,” the NRC said.
Kenya said in May it sought to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s largest refugee site, which hosts more than 300,000 Somalis, by yearend.
Nairobi claimed that some of the asylum seekers in Dadaab, which is near the Kenya-Somalia border, were being used by Somalia-based al-Shabab militants to launch terrorist attacks inside Kenya.
Kenya has also insisted that the evacuation of Dadaab is being conducted in accordance with international law.
Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the NRC, has countered by saying, “The pressure to push more than 280,000 registered refugees from Dadaab camp has led to chaotic and disorganized returns.”
“From what we have seen on the ground, it is no longer voluntary, dignified nor safe,” he added, referring to the repatriation process.
The agency said that aside from being forced to return to Somali, the refugees also face insecurity back home, where violence and inadequacy of basic services are rampant.
“The number of vulnerable Somalis planned for return far outstrips the resources available to support them in Somalia,” Neil Turner, the NRC’s Kenya country director, said.
Somali has been the scene of deadly clashes between government forces and al-Shabab militants since 2006. The group has been pushed out of the capital, Mogadishu, and other major cities by government and African Union troops but continues to carry out attacks in Mogadishu.
In September, Human Rights Watch also slammed Kenya’s repatriation program, saying it did not meet international standards for voluntary return.