Somali refugees wait to register at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya [© Kate Holt/IRIN]
c © Kate Holt/IRIN

Kenya: Somali refugees fear repatriation

Terrorist attacks in Nairobi have sparked calls for Somali refugees living in the Kenya to be sent back to refugee camps.

Following a series of terrorist attacks in the predominantly Somali district of Eastleigh, in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the authorities have directed refugees in the city to return to two camps in the North and North East of the country. The United Nation Higher Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) immediately came out in opposition to the decision. According to Emmanuel Nyabera, a UNHCR spokesman, the decision goes against the rights of the refugees. “We feel that the decision reached by the government was rushed, we are still negotiating with them to take steps that will both ensure security but also protect the rights of refugees,” said Nyabera.

If Kenya proceeds with the directive, more than 21,000 Somali refugees from Nairobi alone would have to return to the already overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp near the border to Somalia. Dadaab is a complex of camps built for approximately 125,000 people, yet currently is home to more than 500,000 refugees, mainly from Kenya’s war torn northern neighbour, Somalia.

Bilaado Ahmed Aw-Abdi, a divorced mother of six children may be one of those forced to leave Nairobi. She arrived in Kenya six years ago and said that she won’t be returning to live in a ‘concentration camp’, and would rather leave Kenya if the government proceed with this directive. “We only come here because we needed peace… [but] I would rather leave Kenya, then living in prison, a place you can’t move freely,” she said.

Bilaado supplies and sells camel milk in the Eastleigh district and it is the only income for her and her children. She believes government and security officers treat Somalis unfairly, but if she goes back to the camps, she will not be able to feed her children on the meagre aid resource from the UNHCR.

Every year, thousands of Somali refugees who originally registered on the refugee camps in Kenya leave seeking a better life in the city. Most of them arrive in Eastleigh and work in underpaid jobs to support their family members back in the camps.

Last month, clashes erupted following a grenade attack on a matatu, a mini-bus carrying commuters, that was travelling through Eastleigh. Many Kenyans were outraged by the attack, and there were clashes on the city street between Kenyans and Somalis. Two weeks later, a road side bomb killed one and injured three in Eastleigh. A third attack in just 20 days was on people leaving the Al-Hidaya Mosque after evening prayer; it killed five people and injured 37, among them local district MP Yousef Hassan Abdi. The MP was an outspoken figure, critical of the Somali extremist group Al-shabaab, but is now recovering in a South African hospital.

The shell of a matatu minibus after the grenade attack in November [IRIN]

The shell of a matatu minibus after the grenade attack in November [IRIN]

 Zeinab Osman’s 16 year old son was one of 37 people injured in the Al-Hidaya Mosque blast. He went missing for a couple of hours whilst his family feared for his life. “We all cried as we learnt that he is one of the casualties,” she said clearing her throat as she hides the agony and anguish she has endured.

Zeinab arrived in Kenya with her family less than a year ago, so that she could get education for three of her seven children who are partially deaf. She has no any documents verifying her origins beside her Somali look.

Thousands of Somalis like Zeinab live in Kenya with no legal documents or even proof of their nationality beside their ethnicity, and could face deportation to Somalia despite never having lived there. According to those that have been arrested by Kenyan police, they are forced to pay a bribe of between 5,000-10,000 shillings (between $60 and $120) to ensure their release.

I asked if she would consider leaving Kenya if the government proceeds the directive, she paused and said. “I will wait and see what happens.” The UNHCR believes the number of Somali nationals could increase to 60,000 in Nairobi.

Last Friday (21st December), the Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, arrived in Kenya to meet with his Kenyan counterpart, Mwai Kibaki. The two presidents expressed their desire to repatriate Somali refugees in Kenya as soon as possible. “Our two governments will work together to enable the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who are living in refugee camps return to their homes,” Kibaki said at State House.

He added “We also call on the international community to play their part and help the people of Somalia live honourable lives in their homes.”

Whilst seeking endorsement from the Somali Federal Republic Parliament in October, the new Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, said that returning Somali refugees will be high on the agenda.

The registration of new refugees from Somalia was suspended in July, but the UN believes that as many as 5,000 refugees have arrived at the complex since then.

The UNHCR resumed registration of new refugees from Somalia arriving in the Dadaab camps complex last month, after the Kenyan government gave the go ahead. Officials in Kenya said they have been encouraged by the recent political development in Somalia, especially the selection of new president and new PM.

Kenya blames refugees, especially Somalians, for the insecurity activities in the urban areas. The country sent its troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight Al-shabaab, an extremist group associated with Al-Qaeda, which the US labelled as a terrorist group. Kenyan authorities accused the group of being behind a series of attacks in the coastal town of Lamu and the North East. The attacks in Eastleigh are also thought to be linked to Al-shabaab, and growing discontent in the Somali community, especially regarding the new directive, will only lead to further attacks on the Kenyan capital.

Main photo:

Said Mohamud Isse


Said Mohamud Isse is a blogger and freelance journalist; he is currently studying at School of Oreintal and African Studies(SOAS), University of London, completing MA in Global Diplomacy(Online) he has Bachelors degree in Mass Communixation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

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