Relief SCENE:Refugees
Exclusive
Kenya Forcibly Returns Somali Refguees
Madera IDP Camps Closed in Kenya
By ABDILATIF MAALIM 03/19/2011
A temporary refugee camp in Mandera, which was hosting about 10,000 Somali refugees who fled their homes in Beled Hawo, following the recent fighting between forces allied to Transitional Federal Government (TFG) against Al Shabaab, has been closed down by Kenyan authorities.

The reason for the closure was not immediately clear, but the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society, Abass Gullet, whose organization manages the temporary camp told Somalia Report that the Kenyan government said it was mandatory for the refugees to return since Beled Hawo was considered to be peaceful and calm.

“Government forces on Friday went in to the camp and asked all people to leave the place asking them to go back to their homes. Now no one is in the camp, they have all been returned,” Mr Abass said.

According to Abass, the Kenya Red Cross Society was informed by authorities about the decision to close down the centre which was offering help to the Somali refugees. “We as a humanitarian organization have done our part which was to respond to help those displaced by the fighting in Somalia and we did exactly that,” said Abass.

When asked what he thinks about the government decision to close down the camp while the situation Beled Hawo is still not calm, Mr Abass said, “I don’t want to be drawn on what my view is about the government decision. A lot of things are being said about what is happening in Somalia for example insecurity but please ask this question to the government and the UNHCR.”

But a number of the refugees who were forcefully returned to Somalia decried the decision. The refugees also complained about the camps being infiltrated by poor Kenyans who registered themselves as refugees.

“I have seen Kenyans moving in to the camp with us. This had led to resource constraints and I think the government of Kenya is ashamed that it is own people are registering as refugee as results of hunger,” said, Hodhan Ahmed, a mother of three who spoke to Somalia Report.

The movement of the refugee was noticed in Mandera with donkey carts carrying the belongings of the refugees dotting the main streets of the Kenyan town.

“I have seen a huge influx of people in to the town centre moving towards the border. It was really not a good image. You could see mothers with kid tied to their back trekking for long distance,” Lathan Shangoi, a nursery school teacher in Mandera told Somalia Report.

The claim was acknowledged by Mr Abass who said indeed there is a possibility of some Kenyan sneaking in to the camps.

“The issue of IDPs is to be handled by the Kenyan government. All I know is that majority of the people in the camp were refugees from Somalia and they have all returned,“ said Abass.

In a separate interview with Somalia Report on Saturday, Emmanuel Nyabera, a spokesperson for the UNHCR said high level discussion are going on with the Kenyan government on the issue of returning refugees to volatile areas.

“Our position has always been that areas in South and Central Somalia are not safe and that Kenyan government should grant asylum to all those who flee violence from this areas. We are at the moment in a negotiation with Kenyan government and we are hopeful that these discussions will bear fruit,” said Nyabera.

Mr Nyabera also declined to specifically comment on the Kenyan government decision to close down the camp.

“Kenya has been positive toward hosting Somali refugee than any other country in the region. I have nothing specific about the camp closure in Mandera but all I know is that a solution will be found,“ he added.

Beled Hawo which was the epicenter of heavy fighting between forces allied to Somalia's TFG is still not safe according to many residents in Mandera. The town which is controlled by the Somali government forces was reportedly hit by Al Shabaab mortar shells recently.

It is the second time, Kenya has forcefully returned refugees. Last year a similar decision to return refugee was criticized by the UNHCR.

However, Kenya is home to more than 300,000 Somali refugees who mainly live in the Dadaab refugee camps which is considered as the biggest refugee camp in the world.