/ 26 November 2007

UN: Kenya offers asylum to Somali refugees

Kenya has offered asylum to nearly two dozen Somali refugees, yielding to opposition to its plans to deport them to violence-torn Mogadishu, officials said on Monday.

A military truck transported the 22 refugees from Nairobi to Kenya’s north-eastern Dadaab refugee camp on Saturday after the government dropped plans to deport them, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

”We welcome the government move because these people will now be able to have access to international help and protection,” UNHCR spokesperson Emmanuael Nyabera said.

”We are now registering them, giving them shelter and food ration cards,” said Nyabera.

The Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF), which lobbied against the deportation, also welcomed the move, but urged Nairobi to be considerate in dealing with refugees from war-wracked Somalia.

”We call on the government to act decently when it is dealing with the Somali issue. It should open up the border and offer refugees safe passage to camps in the country,” MHRF chairperson Ali-Amin Kimathi said.

The group of Somali refugees remained behind after Kenyan police last week deported 17 others to Mogadishu. They had been denied asylum in Uganda before returning to Nairobi. The fate of three others remains unclear.

Rights groups said Kenya had violated international law by returning the first batch of refugees to Mogadishu.

But Kenya denied the accusations, saying the refugees had not sought asylum in the country. It said that the airlines that brought them from Mogadishu should be responsible for them.

Kenya is home to 237 000 refugees, mostly from Somalia and Sudan.

Mogadishu has seen an exodus since January when Ethiopia-backed forces swept aside Islamist militants who had ruled part of the country for six months, touching off an ongoing Islamist-led insurgency.

Somalia has lacked a central authority since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre paved the way for deadly power games that have defied numerous peacemaking bids. — AFP