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Issue 451 -- Sept 18- 24, 2010
Somali Refugees Not Welcome In Some Countries - UNHCR
By Cosmus Butunyi
Nairobi, Kenya, September 18, 2010 – As the war rages in Somalia, civilians fleeing the clashes are no longer welcome in some of the countries where they seek refuge.
Besides Kenya, Ethiopia is the other country in the region that is receiving huge numbers of refugees from the country in which fighting between the transitional government and the Al-Shabaab, over the past two weeks, has claimed over 200 lives, and left about 400 wounded and 23,000 displaced.
“High populations of Somalis, mainly from Mogadishu are having asylum doors closed; they face discrimination,” the UN high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres told The EastAfrican on his recent visit to refugee camps in Kenya.
The countries discriminating against the refugees and asylum seekers, which he declined to name, were putting obstacles in their way to safety and instead are driving them back to their country.
Mr Guterres appealed to the international community to keep the asylum space open for the fleeing Somalis as they went through a difficult time and not to have them return to Southern and Central Somalia.
He noted that Kenya is amongst countries that have been able to protect refugees over time without exhibiting xenophobic tendencies.
The Somali refugees make up over 80 per cent of the refugee population in Kenya that stands at 411,667, according to latest figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). This year alone, 37,000 refugees have arrived from the country. Ethiopia, on the other hand, has received more than 20,000 individuals since the beginning of the year.
These are amongst the 68,000 Somalis who have fled the country this year into its neighbors within the region, putting Somalia on the third position in the ranking of countries generating the largest number of refugees across the world behind Afghanistan and Iraq. Even within the country, up to 1.4 million Somalis have been displaced.
The huge refugee population in Kenya has led to congestion in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps, overstretching the available facilities.
Dadaab, which has three camps – Ifo, Hagdera and Daghaley- that were set up about two decades ago to accommodate 90,000 individuals, now hosts 283,268 people, most of whom are Somalis. Kakuma, on the other hand, which was meant for Sudanese refugees, is also dominated by the Somalis, who make up 41,898 out of the 74,367 individuals in the camp.
Mr Francis Baya, an assistant minister for immigration and registration of persons, said that the lasting solution to the refugee problem would be ensuring that negotiations between different clans in Somalia succeed.
“We would like to see a peaceful neighbor working towards development,” Mr Baya added.
The decision to allow refugees to stay in Kenya, he argued, is an effort to ensure that as few people as possible are injured in Somalia.
Besides passing the Refugee Act in 2006, the country has put in place a fully fledged department to handle their issues, including registration and overall coordination of activities.
Mr Baya said that plans are underway to extend registration to the border points instead of the current point, several kilometers within Kenyan territory.
The only challenge that the refugees destined for a safe haven in Kenya may encounter is the difficulty in fleeing Mogadishu.
A statement from the UNHCR indicates that the trip out of the city has lately become dangerous and difficult.
“As they leave Mogadishu, they face new risks and difficulties en route to Somalia’s Puntland in the north or Ethiopia and Kenya to the west and south,” it indicates.
Besides the collapse of the state, the UN refugee agency blames violence and anarchy, coupled with poverty, for the humanitarian crisis in the country. This has compromised security in the region.
However, a section of the refugee population want more than just being allowed to settle in Kenya as they await the situation to improve in their country. From work permits to lesser restrictions to movement, they insist that more needs to be done to improve their lives in their new homes.
Mr Moulid Dugsuye Hirsi, one of the community leaders at Dadaab’s Ifo Camp, says that those amongst them who seek specialized treatment face challenges in leaving the camps.
“Some of us have been around for close to 20 years; we should be given freedom of movement and our children given employment,” he adds.
Already, Mr Baya has directed the provincial administration and the medical authorities to liaise with the office of the director of refugee affairs to shorten the bureaucratic process of medical referrals.
Source: The East African