Standort: / Meldung: "Somali refugees #notwelcome"

Joanna Bostock

Reading between the headlines.

13. 5. 2016 - 14:41

Somali refugees #notwelcome

Kenya's plan to close the world's largest refugee camp.

Dadaab is the name of the largest refugee camp in the world. It's located in Kenya, around 100 km from the border with Somalia, and most of people who live there are Somalis.

The Kenyan government says it wants to close down the Dadaab refugee camp within a year and send people back to Somalia.

Aid and human rights groups say this would be dangerous and illegal.

Reality Check spoke to Gerry Simpson, Senior Refugee Researcher and Advocate at Human Rights Watch.


Marcus Bleasdale / Human Rights Watch

Dadaab refugee camp and Kenya's plan to close it down

Joanna Bostock: Can you first of all describe what life is like in Dadaab?

Gerry Simpson: The Dadaab refugee camps have existed now for 25 years. They have hosted up to a million people at any one time. In 2011 the number was 500,000, and it’s recently dropped down to around 330,000. Kenya forces Somalis in these camps to live there. It does not allow them to move freely, so the lives of these people are limited by the harsh reality of the arid desert region in northern Kenya where they are located. People have to struggle to get food, they have to bore 500 metres deep to get water, instead of 50 metres which was previously the case when there were less people living in the area.

The international community continues, after all this time, to struggle to give them adequate aid, and so many try to eke out a living in makeshift huts and in the local markets in these camps, and even engage in cross border trade with south Somalia, but life is extremely tough, and nobody wants these camps to exist. Everybody wishes Somalis could lead a dignified life in Kenya, move around freely and work, but in the absence of that option, life in these camps is very tough.

JB: So, presumably getting rid of the camp, closing it down, could be a good option [GS: Yes], but the Kenyan government wants to close it down and human rights groups are concerned. Can you explain your concern over the way the Kenyan government is going about this?

GS: Yes. The authorities actually clarified in a statement on 11th May that the process would involve first returning Somalis to Somalia, and then closing down the camps. There was some ambiguity about whether they might close the camps and let them stay freely in Kenya but, of course, that’s no longer the case. So this [proposed] camp closure is a precursor to massed illegal forced return of refugees to a war zone.

JB: And what are the wider consequences of that? You say it’s illegal, you’re talking about a war zone, but what would the knock-on effects be of that?

GS: People would die. People would get injured. People would struggle to survive. People have nowhere to go to. The United Nations would have to set up massive internally displaced people’s camps in Somalia for these returning people who have nowhere to go home to, creating a new humanitarian crisis in Somalia. And it’s likely that the vast numbers of youth who live in these camps would be so enraged by this decision that they would be driven straight into the arms of the Islamist extremist group, Al Shabab in Somalia, which is engaged in various attacks against Kenyan troops who are fighting in Somalia, as well as against Kenyan territory and Kenyans in Kenya. So, from a security perspective, this move is highly risky for Kenya.


Marcus Bleasdale / Human Rights Watch

JB: But, in fact, that’s the reason given by the Kenyan government for wanting to close down the camp, because they say Al Shabab is using the camps as a base.

GS: That’s correct, and it’s also not proven. The attacks that have taken place in Kenya in recent years have been committed in large part by Kenyan Somalis, so home-grown extremism, which Kenya has completely failed to address, and by Somalis belonging to Al Shabab who have crossed from Somalia directly into Kenya to carry out these attacks. There is not a single shred of evidence that any of the attackers lived in the refugee camps.

JB: You said that these mass expulsions would be illegal. If that’s the case, how can Kenya go ahead and do this? And what can be done on an international legal level to stop it?

GS: Yes, good question! Regrettably countries all over the world are constantly shredding international law. You just have to look at what’s happening in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, where civilians are being bombed from the skies arbitrarily and indiscriminately in massive numbers, including with US and European military support. So Kenya would not be alone in engaging in massive violations of international human rights and in this case refugee law.

What can be done about it is a difficult question. There is no international refugee law court that could police these kinds of breaches. Kenya would be condemned, widely condemned globally if it were to engage in mass deportation of Somali refugees. That might cost it some political capital, but ultimately it’s probably making a calculation that if it goes ahead with this, the votes that Kenyan politicians are likely to win in next year’s general election outweigh the cost of international condemnation.


Marcus Bleasdale / Human Rights Watch

JB: You were describing earlier how tough life is in these camps, which date back to the early 1990s and which I guess means that for many people it’s become permanent home, but these expulsions, if the Kenyan government were to go ahead with it, would make life even worse than it already is?

GS: There’s no question that life inside Somalia for these people would be a lot worse than the tough conditions in Kenya. We’ve documented the lives that displaced Somalis live in horrendous camp conditions around Mogadishu for example. There the authorities in fact have been forcibly evicting tens of thousands of women and children in recent years. So people with nowhere to go, fleeing conflict in their villages in Somalia, end up in these displaced people’s camps around the capital Mogadishu, and are then forced by the government out of those camps, end up living under trees and out in the open with no assistance whatsoever. We’ve documented widespread rape of Somali women in these displacement camps in Somalia. We’ve documented really horrendous situations in which militia charge displaced civilians rent for sitting under a tree, so that they can be in the shade and not out in the open sunshine – as you can imagine, the sun is pretty punishing in Somalia. So the conditions in the camps in Kenya, bad though they are, are pretty good compared to the horrendous conditions in Somalia.

JB: And what’s the Somali government saying about all of this?

The Somali government has called on Kenya to change these plans, to rescind them. It says forcing Somalis back into Somalia at this stage would be not only an international legal breach but would also be a horrendous moral abrogation on the part of the Kenyan authorities, and of course they’re right.


Marcus Bleasdale / Human Rights Watch

JB: So, given the potential dire consequences of this and illegality of this, the Kenyan government is arguing security but do people think there could be other motivations behind this?

GS: Yes. We think there are probably two main motivations. Firstly, next year there are elections in Kenya, and politicians know that demonising refugees is a good vote winner. And they’re not the only ones: it happens in the United States, it happens in Europe, it happens in South East Asia, it happens all over the world, and we’ve seen before in Kenya. And secondly the World Humanitarian Summit is taking place in Istanbul in 10 days’ time. States will be positioning themselves ahead of calls for funds they will make to donors. So it’s possible that they’re going to use this as a way to pressure the Europe Union and other states to give Kenya more money for these camps.