/ 20 November 2007

Kenya condemned by rights group for Somali repatriations

A human rights group condemned Kenya on Tuesday for repatriating 18 Somali refugees who had already been turned away from Uganda despite the horrific security situation in their homeland.

Ali-Amin Kimathi, chairperson of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, accused Kenyan police officers of beating some of the refugees, who included women and children, as they were bundled into a plane while pleading not to be sent home.

”We are demanding that doctors and lawyers be allowed into where the remaining 32 are being held,” he said.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it had been denied access to the 50 refugees, held in protective custody near Nairobi’s international airport since their expulsion from Uganda on November 12.

”We tried to access them yesterday [Monday], but we were told that we need authorisation from the Ministry of Immigration, which we are still looking for,” UNHCR spokesperson Emmanuel Nyabera said.

The Kenyan authorities said Nairobi had followed normal protocol in repatriating the Somalis whose initial destination had been Uganda.

”They are not being deported, but being taken back to where they came from. It is standard procedure,” said airport police commander Joseph Mumira.

Kimathi said Kenya was violating international law by sending them back to Mogadishu, a volatile city where Ethiopia-backed forces have been battling Islamist-led insurgents for months.

”The refugees are being sent back to a battle zone against their will … They have clearly said that they do not want to go to Mogadishu because they will be targeted and killed by the government,” he said.

He said security forces at the capital’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport were ”hoisting and bundling them into the aeroplane like bags of potatoes”.

”They were denied access to medicine and food and they have already finished all the money they had. This is totally inhuman and Kenya is blatantly violating international law,” he said.

”The remaining 32 are still not willing to go back, but we fear they will be forced into the plane.”

Bloody clan bickering and power struggles that intensified after the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre have scuppered numerous bids to stabilise Somalia.

The fighting has raged in the Somali capital since January when Ethiopia-backed forces swept aside an Islamist militia that had briefly governed swathes of the country, touching off a deadly insurgency mainly in Mogadishu.

At least 580 000 people have now fled the Somali capital, some spilling into the outskirts and rural settlements while others seek refuge in neighbouring states.

Most are camped on the border with Kenya, which closed its frontier in January to prevent suspected Islamist fighters from entering the East African nation.

Aid groups have complained that insecurity has blocked them from accessing civilians trapped in Mogadishu.

The Shabelle region, considered Somalia’s breadbasket, has also suffered its worst crop in 13 years, leaving nearly a million people on the edge of starvation.

Many are living in desperate conditions, camped on roadsides in the middle of the rainy season with no shelter. — AFP