(Amsterdam) - The Dutch government should immediately halt all plans to return Somalis to war-torn Somalia, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Dutch authorities have announced their intention to deport, between now and October 2010, at least eight Somalis whose claims for asylum have been rejected. The first deportation could take place as early as July 24. The plan is contrary to UN refugee guidelines, which advise against all deportations to south-central Somalia.
"Mogadishu is one of the world's most dangerous places," said Leslie Lefkow, senior Horn of Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Returning people there is not just risky; it's a potential death sentence. The Dutch authorities should quickly reconsider this plan, which is at odds with their obligation to protect those whose lives are at risk."
Somalia remains mired in a brutal armed conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which controls only a tiny sliver of Mogadishu, the capital, and armed opposition forces dominated by the Islamist group al-Shabaab that control much of central and southern Somalia.
Depending on where they live, many Somalis are now confronted with one of two very different but equally grim realities. Fighting between transitional government and the African Union (AMISOM) forces supporting it and the opposition fighters continues to frame the day-to-day reality of life in Mogadishu. The consequences have been devastating for civilians, thousands of whom have been killed and wounded by indiscriminate small arms, mortar, and rocket fire. Meanwhile many of the areas under al-Shabaab's control have enjoyed relative peace - but the population is subject to targeted killings and assaults, repressive forms of social control, and brutal punishments under its draconian interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).
Somalia's chronic humanitarian crisis is worsening, fueled largely by conflict and instability. Food aid to much of southern Somalia has also been suspended. Due to all of these factors, thousands of Somalis flee the country every month.
The government of The Netherlands has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Somali transitional government that ostensibly forms the basis for these returns. The Dutch government is refusing to abide by an order of the District Court of Amsterdam to make the memorandum public, citing a need to protect its diplomatic relations with Somalia.
"A piece of paper signed by the transitional government won't protect people returned forcibly to Somalia," Lefkow said.
Irrespective of the terms of any agreement, the Dutch authorities have a binding obligation under international law not to subject anyone seeking protection to refoulement, that is, they are prohibited from forcibly returning anyone to a territory where they would face persecution, or their life would be in danger.
Recognizing the ongoing conflict and the lack of a functioning central government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued new guidelines in May noting that "Effective State protection is unavailable in southern and central Somalia." The UN guidelines urge host governments not to return any Somalis, including failed asylum seekers, to south-central Somalia.
The International Organization for Migration suspended its assistance for voluntary returns to Somalia in June 2008 due to concerns about security. On June 3, the European Court of Human Rights ordered The Netherlands to suspend deportation of a Somali asylum seeker to Greece due to concerns that Greece might forcibly return him to Somalia without a proper review of his asylum claim, and on June 11 the court also instructed The Netherlands to suspend the deportation of another Somali to Somalia pending a review of his case by the court. Under the European Union's Dublin II regulations, the country where a person first entered the EU is generally held responsible for examining that person's asylum claim.
"Everyone agrees: there is no reasonable way to return people to the chaos of Somalia," Lefkow said. "The Dutch government should immediately suspend all plans to deport Somalis and consider alternative protection measures for rejected asylum seekers."