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(Nairobi) – Kenya’s repatriation program for Somali refugees, fueled by fear and misinformation, does not meet international standards for voluntary refugee return. Many refugees living in Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab camp, home to at least 263,000 Somalis, say they have agreed to return home because they fear Kenya will force them out if they stay.

In May 2016, the Kenyan government announced plans to speed up the repatriation of Somali refugees and close the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya by November. Kenyan authorities, with officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), then stepped up a 2013 “voluntary” repatriation program.

During an August 2016 visit to Dadaab by Human Rights Watch, refugees described intimidation by the Kenyan government, silence over alternative options that would allow them to remain in Kenya, inadequate information on conditions in Somalia, and a US$400 UN cash grant they would forfeit if they were deported later this year. The refugees said that these factors were prompting many camp residents to return now to Somalia, where they face danger, persecution, and hunger.

“The Kenyan authorities are not giving Somali refugees a real choice between staying and leaving, and the UN refugee agency isn’t giving people accurate information about security conditions in Somalia,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “There is no way these returns can be considered voluntary.”

The 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits refoulement, the return of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever” to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened. Refoulement occurs not only when a refugee is directly rejected or expelled, but also where indirect pressure on individuals is so intense that it leads them to believe that they have no practical option but to return to a country where they face serious risk of persecution or threats to their lives and safety.

Under international refugee practice, repatriation is only considered voluntary if refugees have a genuinely free choice about whether to return and are fully informed about conditions in their home country. Human Rights Watch interviewed about 100 refugees and asylum seekers at the Dadaab camp and found that neither condition is being met under the current voluntary repatriation program.

Until the Kenyan government publicly declares that Somali refugees fearing return will be allowed to remain, and UNHCR and its partners fully and accurately inform refugees about security conditions in Somalia, returns under the ongoing program amount to refoulement, Human Rights Watch said.

Refugees said the government’s decision to close the Dadaab camp had left them feeling trapped. They are afraid to return to Somalia, but also afraid of being arrested and deported if they stay in Dadaab until the November deadline. Many have therefore chosen to take US$400 in cash as part of a UNHCR-returns assistance package because they believe that if they don’t, they will be summarily deported later this year with nothing.

“We fled Somalia because of specific problems and those problems are still there,” said “Sahra,” a 42-year-old woman from Hiraan region who has signed up to return to Somalia. “It’s not the right time for us to go back. But every day the Kenyan government is telling us that we have to go, and UNHCR is not giving us any different information… I said I will go back as we have no other option.”

Human Rights Watch repeatedly asked a Kenyan government official in Dadaab, the deputy county commissioner, what would happen to refugees who don’t leave after Dadaab closes and whether they will be able to stay in Kenya. He answered: “The choice is theirs to go home.”

Some Somalis who agreed to return to Somalia after spending years as refugees in Dadaab have fled back to Kenya a second time because of ongoing violence and lack of basic services in Somalia. Human Rights Watch found that newly arrived Somali asylum seekers and refugees who were not able to re-establish themselves in Somalia are being denied access to refugee registration or asylum procedures in Dadaab. This leaves them without legal status and food rations.

Many of the estimated 335,000 Somali refugees in Kenya’s camps and cities fled the conflict in their home country in the 1990s, or are their children or grandchildren. Over the past decade, a new wave of refugees fled a combination of drought, ongoing violence, and abuse including by the armed Islamist group Al-Shabab, which is at war with the Somali government.

Hostility and abuse of Kenya’s Somali refugee population has increased significantly since Kenyan troops entered Somalia in 2011, and after a series of deadly Al-Shabab attacks on Kenyan territory between 2011 and 2015. The government’s formal announcement on May 6, 2016, that Dadaab would close said that because of its “national security interests, [the government] has decided that hosting of refugees has to come to an end” and called for closure “within the shortest time possible.”

In November 2013, Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR signed an agreement for the “voluntary” repatriation of Somali refugees that says both countries and UNHCR will make sure Somalis return voluntarily in safety and dignity. The current experiences of many Somali refugees in Dadaab stands in sharp contrast to those commitments, Human Rights Watch said.

UNHCR-Somalia officials acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that their assessments indicate that conditions in south-central Somalia are not conducive to mass refugee returns in safety and dignity. UNHCR’s latest assessment in May found: “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement.”

The information that UNHCR provides to refugees in Dadaab seeking to make an informed choice about returning, however, is mostly superficial and out of date, and sometimes misleading, Human Rights Watch said.

As a party to the 2013 “voluntary” repatriation agreement, UNHCR has been actively engaged in facilitating the repatriations of thousands from Dadaab to Somalia. UNHCR says it is not promoting repatriation, but that it will facilitate repatriation for Somalis who freely choose to return home, a distinction it makes for assisted returns to places it does not consider to be safe for most refugees to return.

The Kenyan government and UNHCR are conducting a verification exercise to reduce the number of refugees counted as living in Dadaab by determining whether people living in the camp are entitled to be there. It excludes formerly registered camp residents with inactive ration cards and asylum seekers who have not been allowed to register as refugees, as well as residents found to be Kenyan citizens. During the exercise, all verified Somali refugees are asked whether they want to return to Somalia and whether they are willing to do so this year. As of August, according to UNHCR, there were 263,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, a 75,000 reduction from the 338,000 count at the end of July.

Somali refugees waiting to board buses that will take them back to Somalia after the Kenya government annouced the closure of the Dadaab refugee camps in 2016.  © 2016 Laetitia Bader/Human Rights Watch

As of mid-August, more than 24,000 Somalia refugees had returned to Somalia from Dadaab since the start of the repatriation process in December 2014. Of that total, 18,110 returned in 2016, 10,000 after the camp closure announcement in May. Kenyan authorities told Human Rights Watch in mid-August that they were assisting about 1,000 refugees a day to return. On August 29, returns were suspended because local authorities in Jubaland, an interim regional administration in Somalia bordering Kenya to which many of the refugees are returning, said they could not sufficiently assist returning refugees. Negotiations to resume the repatriations are ongoing.

“UNHCR is aware that south-central Somalia is in no way conducive to large-scale refugee returns,” Frelick said. “UNHCR should not facilitate any returns until Kenya says those afraid to go home can stay in Kenya and UNHCR provides refugees with accurate information about what they will face when they go home.”


Human Rights Watch researchers visited Dadaab, Kenya, between August 17 and 24 and conducted private interviews with 69 individual refugees and unregistered asylum seekers. Human Rights Watch also interviewed 31 refugees and unregistered asylum seekers in Dadaab in April, shortly before the camp closure announcement. All interviewees were advised of the purpose of the research and how the information would be used. Human Rights Watch explained the voluntary nature of the interview and that the person could refuse to be interviewed, refuse to answer any question, and terminate the interview at any point. Interviewees did not receive any compensation. The team also visited one “help desk” center in the Hagadera settlement in the Dadaab camp on August 23. The names of those quoted in this report have been changed for their protection.

Human Rights Watch also met with Kenyan government officials, including the deputy county commissioner and the leaders of the new Operation Refugees Repatriation Team in Dadaab, UNHCR staff in Dadaab and Nairobi, and a dozen staff of international and Kenyan non-governmental organizations involved in refugee protection and assistance in Kenya.

Kenya’s and UNHCR’s Failure to Meet Conditions for Voluntary Return

The principle that refugee repatriation must be voluntary is explicit in both the 2013 Tripartite Agreement Governing the Voluntary Repatriation of Somali Refugees Living in Kenya and the 1969 African Refugee Convention, to which Kenya is a state party.

Ensuring that refugee repatriation is voluntary involves more than ticking off a box on a form. UNHCR’s Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation sets out two clear conditions for repatriation to be considered voluntary. First, whether a return is voluntary “must be viewed in relation to … condition in the country of origin (calling for an informed decision).” An informed decision on return conditions must be based on information that is “objective, accurate, and neutral,” must “not [be] propaganda” and “care must be taken not to paint an overly rosy picture of the return.” Refugees should also be fully informed of the limits of UNHCR’s protection and assistance following return.

Second, whether a return is voluntary “must be viewed in relation to … the situation in the country of asylum (permitting a free choice).” Refugees “need to know about what will happen in the event they decide not to volunteer for repatriation” and that “repatriation is not voluntary when host country authorities deprive refugees of any real freedom of choice.”

Neither of these two conditions are being met in Dadaab, Human Rights Watch found.

Fear of Deportation After Threatened Camp Closure

The Kenyan government is not offering refugees a real choice between staying in Kenya or returning safely to Somalia. Anxious refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch who are opting to return referred time and again to the government announcement of the camp closure and radio broadcasts telling them to go home as the main factors influencing their decision.

Refugees stand outside their tent at the Ifo Extension refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border in Garissa County, Kenya, October 19, 2011.  © 2016 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Others said they were worried about losing out on help to go home if they refused now, only to be forced out in a few months. UNHCR and its partners have been providing Somali refugees who opt to return with an assistance package, which was increased in July 2016 to include an average cash grant of US$200 in Kenya per person and then again another US$200 upon arrival, as well as non-food items and vouchers for limited food assistance. However, it is unclear whether the food assistance in particular is systematically available in any of the return areas other than Mogadishu.

“We have no clarity on what the future holds,” said a 70-year-old grandfather living in the Ifo 2 settlement in Dadaab. “What will happen if we don’t voluntarily return? Will we be forced back in a few months? We are feeling a lot of pressure. If we will be forced back anyway, it would be better to take the benefits now rather than just get kicked back later.”

A 69-year-old man originally from Qansahdheere, Somalia said:

Nobody said that food and security will be guaranteed, but they just asked if I would be willing to go back and of course, what can I say but yes. My children want to stay, but I worry they will suffer if they stay.

Nuur, a 33-year-old teacher and father-of-three, from Kismayo, Somalia said:

The government has said that the camp will close, I am not waiting around to see what happens. I have heard this several times on the radio. During the refugee verification exercise, [in which officials count refugees and verify their identifications] they asked me if I was willing to go back, I said yes, if there is peace in Somalia. But the main reason I am going back is because of what the government has said. We haven’t seen force yet, but if force will begin to be used, I would worry for my children.

Nasra, who recently fled from the Al-Shabab-controlled town of Sakoow in Somalia said:

Everyone is rushing as we heard that the camp would be closed by November, I haven’t heard anyone saying that we can stay, just that we have to go.

A mother-of-five from a village near the Al-Shabab controlled town of Buale in Somalia said:

Since our future is unclear, I do not want to be put on a lorry and sent back, so I will take the money.

A number of aid workers in Dadaab also raised concerns. A senior representative of an international aid group said:

I think the options are very clear: there are no real options right now. If it was not the government position, the refugees would have stayed, but they are tired of being told to leave. Refugees are in a dilemma as their only option right now is insecure returns.

None of the refugees interviewed said that any officials had given them assurances that they would be allowed to stay if they refused to go now.

UNHCR has been silent on what will happen to refugees still in the camp come November, including regarding service provision. An outreach worker for an international aid group said:

UNHCR is treading very carefully with giving information. As UNHCR is not communicating, refugees are not receiving information on what happens after November. The attitude seems to be we will cross that bridge when we reach it. If that many people have left by then, they might not need to close the camp. Most of the refugees I speak to say that they are “willing” because they fear. But people are also worried whether they will still get camp services after November. UNHCR has not been communicating on this either.

Intimidation by Kenyan Government Officials

Refugees and asylum seekers consistently told Human Rights Watch that the Kenyan government officials are putting direct and indirect pressure on them to return to Somalia.

An aerial picture shows a section of the Hagadera camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border, May 8, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

“We hear rumors of forced returns on the radio,” said Nuh, a 53-year-old man disabled by multiple gunshot wounds who has been living in Dadaab’s Hagadera settlement since 1998. He said he heard the regional coordinator for northeastern Kenya, Mohamud Ali Saleh, say on the radio that Kenya is not our country and that we will have to go back.

Print media quoted Mohamud Ali Saleh saying, “Somalia is safe and the refugees should join their brothers and sisters,” and telling local residents that the government would take “stern action” against any who would harbor refugees escaping the camps. A video shows him saying, “Refugees stayed here in Kenya for 25 years and that is enough…. It is time for them to go back home and build their country.”

Overt pressure by Kenyan officials in the camps has been directed to the camps’ refugee community leaders. Six leaders told Human Rights Watch that, in late July, they attended a meeting at which the deputy county commissioner (DCC), Harun Kamau, intimidated them to get them to agree to return before November.

One elder said:

When I tried to tell the DCC that people can’t go back, that it is not as safe as he suggests, he pointed his finger at me and told me to sit down. He told me to pick up a gun and defend my country. We were never told directly this would happen but after that meeting, people began to really worry that we would be put into lorries come November.

A community leader from Dabaab’s Kambios settlement described a meeting of Interior Ministry officials and community leaders:

They say, ‘Why are your people not going back to Somalia?’ I am an experienced man. I know institutions. I understand what they mean when they ask that question. The message to us is: you must go back. There is more and more pressure on the few who remain. We fear we will be harmed. The message we hear is that the government will send some military to harm those who remain. I can’t say that people will be harmed, but that is the fear.

The lack of clear information about the situation after the November deadline has prompted confusion. A 42-year-old woman in the Hagadera settlement said:

I have not heard it myself, but the block leaders met with government officials who gave them the message that in November the government will close the camp. There will be no food or benefits after November. That is why people are going back now.

Human Rights Watch did not document recent incidents of police violence but refugees said they were aware of past abusive operations. During Kenya’s Operation Usalama Watch in 2014, authorities engaged in heavy-handed efforts to coerce Somalis to go home, including police harassment, arbitrary detention, forced relocation to refugee camps, and summary deportations.

Limited information on country of origin

Informed consent – fully understanding the conditions in the country to which one agrees to return – is key to a voluntary decision to repatriate. Through partners from nongovernmental agencies, UNHCR is tasked with providing each returnee with information about nine areas of possible return in Somalia at “help desks” in Dadaab’s five settlements. While UNHCR is not promoting repatriation, under the terms of the November 2013 tripartite agreement it has undertaken responsibility to ensure that refugees have access to accurate and objective information on the situation in Somalia. However, Human Rights Watch found that information provided to refugees in Dadaab is mostly superficial and out of date, and sometimes misleading.

Somali refugees queuing inside the UNHCR Hagadera center waiting to access the helpdesk room to be registered to return to Somalia.  © 2016 Laetitia Bader/Human Rights Watch

During an August 23 visit to a help desk, where refugees go to register with UNHCR for repatriation, the situation was chaotic and information was severely limited. Outside the disorganized, crowded, and overwhelmed office, hundreds of refugees were pushing and shoving to get near the doorway. Human Rights Watch witnessed a number of private security guards, and at least one police officer, hitting refugees with wooden sticks to control the crowd.

“The registration process is a mess,” said Nuur, the 33-year-old teacher. “There are many people in the office, people have to stand outside in the scorching sun, there are soldiers with guns, sometimes they beat people in the queues.”

Inside the help desk office, the officer in charge of providing information said that the maximum time spent with each refugee family both for registration and information sharing was five minutes. At most, the official has enough time to present them with a pamphlet describing conditions in their place of return. But many refugees don’t even receive the pamphlet. Only one of the 32 refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed who had signed up to return had received a pamphlet.

Information presented in the pamphlets, particularly on security conditions, is inadequate, Human Rights Watch found. The pamphlets had not been updated since December 2015, despite Somalia’s volatile and changing security and political landscape. The sparse information on the security situation inaccurately describes what returnees will face.

For example, the pamphlet on Mogadishu, Afgooye, and Jowhar, repeats the same one-sentence boilerplate description of security conditions in all three locations: “The town is secured with established administration and with uniformed police conducting regular patrols.” The entry on security conditions in Mogadishu adds only one more sentence, stating there are “neighborhood watches” in eight districts. The entry on Jowhar adds, “The police have a police station and conduct patrols.” One has to look carefully to notice that the word “regular” does not appear before “patrols,” as it does for the other entries.

In contrast to the perfunctory two sentences about security conditions in Mogadishu, UNHCR’s May 2016 assessment of conditions in Somalia available on its web page says this about the effectiveness of those same police patrols in Mogadishu:

In and around Mogadishu, members of government forces, allied militias, AMISOM [peace support] troops, and persons referred to as “men wearing uniforms” have been reported to subject civilians to sexual violence, including rape. The police and security forces are reportedly able to commit abuses in a climate of impunity. Law enforcement agencies are also reported to fail to prevent, or to respond to or investigate incidents of violence. The civilian judicial system is reported to be largely non-functional across the country. General crime rates have reportedly increased significantly in 2015.

Limitations on information, monitoring capacity

The 2013 tripartite agreement includes extensive language outlining the responsibilities of UNHCR to monitor returns and reintegration. For UNHCR to monitor the situation for returning refugees and to feedback its conclusions to refugees in Kenya considering repatriation, UNHCR needs to have a significant presence in Somalia.

Yet, UNHCR and its international implementing partners have limited access in Somalia. On August 25, UNHCR-Somalia told Human Rights Watch that it faces restrictions in its capacity to gather information, particularly in areas of military offensives and border areas. In April, a UNHCR spokesperson told the media: “It has proven difficult to establish a picture of how returnees are faring for a number of reasons. Often, returnees move on from areas where we have access, to areas where we are unable or have difficulty in accessing due to UN and other security constraints. However, we do endeavor to monitor through partners and our monitoring networks.”

The UN protection cluster, the body that coordinates protection activities in Somalia, produced its first analytical report in June 2016, but that information has yet to be transmitted to refugees in Dadaab.

Other factors undermining voluntary return

Several people, most of them women, said that they felt increasingly unsafe as their fellow community members left Dadaab. Deka, a 45-year-old woman from Mogadishu, said this made her decide to sign-up to return:

We used to have a normal life in Kenya, but then the radio started saying, ‘Refugees go back to your country,’ and I started seeing my neighbors leave. I got very scared, I felt lonely. I was worried about my security.

Sahra, a 35-year-old woman from Beletweyn, said:

I am worried because my neighbors are going back and I am under pressure to return, but I know it’s not the right time to return for me.

Increasingly harsh living conditions in Dadaab have also influenced people’s decisions. The World Food Program, which provides food rations to Dadaab’s population, has repeatedly cut rations, due to funding shortfalls. The most recent cut was in June 2015, when the program cut rations by 30 percent. Refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed in April 2016 who had signed up to return to Somalia all cited the ration cuts as the main factor influencing their decision. The June 2015 cut has been compensated somewhat since January 2016 by cash distribution.

“The food situation has been bad for two years now,” said a community leader in the Kambios settlement. “But it’s worse since the repatriations started as now we can’t buy on credit as a lot of shops are closing up. If all the refugees leave, I will have to. I will have to go back to my village where I am not sure I can be safe.”

In addition, unregistered refugees and asylum seekers who do not have ration cards said they are finding it more difficult to survive and share rations with relatives or neighbors because many of those with ration cards have left.

Ruun is a 36-year-old mother-of-nine children whose ration card was deactivated after she returned to Kismayo, Somalia in August 2014 to care for her sick mother. She returned to Dadaab because she was worried her 14-year-old son would be recruited as a fighter if she remained, and she couldn’t afford to take her children to school. “I came back here to be safe and secure and for my children to go to school,” she said. Despite her fears, she was turned away during the joint government-UNHCR verification exercise, and does not have food rations to feed her children:

Neighbors share their rations with me and I wash clothes and clean people’s houses. It is difficult to live in Dadaab without a ration card. If I would get back my refugee status, I would stay here. But I can’t live without rations, so I may have to go back.

Access to Asylum for Somali Refugees

In May, the Kenyan government also closed its Department of Refugee Affairs, which was in charge of registering refugees, and announced that Somali asylum seekers would no longer automatically receive refugee status. Asylum seeker registration in Dadaab has been sporadic since 2011. UNHCR said that the last registration took place in the summer of 2015.

Government officials in Dadaab made clear to Human Rights Watch that new arrivals are not being registered. The deputy county commissioner said: “If we repatriate 1,000 but then 1,000 new arrivals come, we would not be getting the job done.” The same official said: “We have instructed UNHCR not to register new arrivals.” The new government refugee entity, Refugee Affairs Secretariat, is not authorized to register people in Dadaab. UNHCR officials told Human Rights Watch that they know of 4,000 unregistered asylum seekers in the camp, though this number is unlikely to include new arrivals since the Department of Refugee Affairs was disbanded.

Human Rights Watch spoke to 23 unregistered new arrivals, including people who are registered refugees with inactivated ration cards and thus are not able to take part in the verification exercise, people who had returned under the repatriation program but have fled back to Dadaab, and new asylum seekers. None had been able to take part in the verification exercise and are therefore unlikely to be included in the final camp census.

Unregistered people said they feel particularly vulnerable both because of their lack of access to food aid and due to their lack of legal status. Farhan, a 23-year-old from Mogadishu, who arrived in Dadaab nine months ago, said: “Unless the government announces that that they will register unregistered people I will not step forward. I am afraid they would arrest me.”

Bare, a refugee whose ration card is inactivate, said:

I feel very much pressure. I am unregistered and living in the camp. I face a lot of problems. They have not arrested me yet, but it could happen any time. The police sometimes stop people. If you show your refugee card, they let you go, but if not, they arrest you. I am feeling they will ultimately force me back to Somalia against my will. I should have the rights of a refugee, but I can’t get documents from UNHCR. For the past four months, I go to UNHCR every day, but every day they tell me they can’t help me.

Conditions in Somalia

The success or failure of repatriation hinges on what happens to refugees once they have returned home. In May, UNHCR released an updated position on returns to south-central Somalia, which said, “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement.”

Human Rights Watch spoke to refugees caught up in fighting and insecurity in many of the current or planned areas of return. A number of refugees from Belet Hawa have recently arrived in Dadaab. A 42-year-old woman who returned to Belet Hawa in January said:

I had received information that Belet Hawa was safe, but when I returned, I saw that nothing had changed. There the young and the old carry guns, there is no peace… There were three bouts of fighting between two sub-clans of the Marehan…My husband who has a mental health condition was very affected by the fighting. It’s hard to know how to protect yourself.

According to the UNHCR, 68 percent of returnees to Somalia in 2016 as of August were children. According to the UN, recruitment of children, primarily by Al-Shabab but also by the Somalia National Army and clan militia, had increased significantly in 2015. Human Rights Watch spoke to several young men and boys who had returned with their families to Al-Shabab-controlled areas, including Buale and Sakoow, and who were approached by Al-Shabab. Human Rights Watch also spoke to parents who said they came back to Kenya out of fear that their children would be recruited if they remained in Somalia.

Refugees who had returned to Al-Shabab-controlled or government-controlled areas said that lack of food, as well as lack of basic services, primarily education, made it impossible for them to survive or to re-establish themselves. Moulid had returned without assistance to a village in Qansahdheere district in 2015, but Al-Shabab restrictions on movement severely affected his survival:

There was no way we could travel to the market in Dinsoor. I was not able to get food for my children. When I returned to Dadaab, my children were admitted to a hospital because of malnutrition.

Access to services, land, and protection from abuse often go hand in hand. An elderly man from Luuq returned to Somalia in September 2015 with his 10 children because the ration cuts in Dadaab were making it impossible for him to survive:

When I arrived in Luuq I found that people had built on my property. We spent three months living under a tree. I complained to the authorities, but I knew it would take time. But we didn’t have time, my children were without shelter and hungry.

He walked back to Dadaab with his children.

UNHCR has steadily increased the number of areas designated as areas of return, and will shortly be expanding them to 12. UNHCR told Human Rights Watch that the expansion was based on the access aid agencies have to the designated areas and, for the more recent expansion, on an assessment that significant numbers of refugees were returning to specific areas. Although UNHCR is careful not to refer to the areas of return as “safe,” Kenyan authorities have no such reticence. The deputy county commissioner told Human Rights Watch, “UNHCR is not taking people to unsafe areas. They are only being taken back to safe areas. They can continue to enjoy education and health care in their home country.”

Ongoing abuses against displaced people in Somalia

It is of particular concern that returning refugees, especially those unable to return to their areas of origin or those who have been gone for many years, will end up among the 1.1 million people already internally displaced in Somalia and living in dangerous internal displacement camps. The exact number who have faced new displacement within Somalia after returning is unknown.

In an August 25 meeting, UNHCR told Human Rights Watch that at least 10 percent of people who returned in June and July are believed to have ended up internally displaced.

Some people who had been unable to return to their areas of origin told Human Rights Watch that they ended up in unsafe displacement camps. Amina, a 38-year-old single mother returned to her village, Bula Gudud, as part of the assisted returns in January 2015 with her five children. When fighting erupted in this town she fled to Kismayo and ended up in an informal displacement camp. She barely survived there, for nine months carrying water to sell in the market. After a man in a government uniform raped her, a common occurrence in the unprotected and poverty stricken camps across the country, Amina gave up and 10 months ago begged her way back to Dadaab, where she is no longer a registered refugee.

Others who have signed up to return are aware they are likely to wind up as internally displaced people. The 69-year-old man with a disability from an Al-Shabab-controlled village near Qansahdheere said: “I know neighbors from Dadaab who have returned to Baidoa. They told me they haven’t found any housing. I heard we won’t get any shelter on the local radio. We will join them and other IDPs.”


The Kenyan authorities should:

  • Publicly assure all Somali refugees and asylum seekers still fearing return that they will be allowed to stay in dignity in Kenya;
  • Reinstate procedures recognizing Somali refugees on a prima facie basis or establish fair, transparent, and effective asylum procedures across the country; and
  • Continue to recognize as refugees those who were unable to reestablish themselves in Somalia after repatriating and coming back to Kenya.

UNHCR should:

  • Not facilitate any refugee returns to Somalia until Kenya confirms that all refugees have a genuinely free choice to stay in Kenya or return to Somalia;
  • Ensure that refugees are provided with accurate and up-to-date information about conditions in Somalia, including security conditions, consistent with UNHCR’s most current Position on Returns to Southern and Central Somalia;
  • Ensure that this information is made readily available to Somali refugees, including through meaningful counseling and the radio; and
  • Resume “go-and-see” visits by camp leaders to enable them to assess conditions in return areas and report back to camp residents.

Donors, notably the US, EU and UK, the three leading donors for Dadaab, should:

  • Ensure that refugees remaining in Dadaab receive adequate aid and opportunities for other durable solutions, including greater use of resettlement to countries outside the region, for as long as they have well-founded fears of return to persecution or other serious abuses in Somalia; and
  • Insist that any organized returns of refugees from Dadaab fully comply with standards for voluntary repatriation and refuse to fund or otherwise support involuntary refugee returns to Somalia.

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