Nairobi - Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Kenya of endangering the lives of thousands of Somali refugees deported back to their war-torn country in violation of international law.
Kenya hosts almost 300 000 Somalis in its Dadaab refugee complex, near the Kenya-Somalia border, which is at bursting point as thousands continue to flee a bloody Islamist insurgency.
However, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said many thousands of those who make into Kenya are being returned to Somalia.
"Continued fighting and horrendous abuses in Somalia pose a very real threat to the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men," said Michelle Kagari, Africa programme deputy director at Amnesty International. "No Somali should be forcibly returned to southern and central Somalia."
Amnesty International said Kenyan authorities last month forcibly returned 8 000 refugees who had fled fighting, while HRW cited cases of hundreds of Somalis being driven back to the border in trucks.
"Kenyan officials are flagrantly violating Somalis' right not to be returned to a place where their lives are at grave risk," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for HRW. "The Kenyan government needs to send a clear message to provincial and local authorities that Somalis must not be deported to their war-torn country."
Discussions have been ongoing between Kenya and the United Nations refugee agency UNCHR for years over the allocation of more land at the Dadaab complex, but no deal has been struck.
Kenya feels it is bearing the brunt of the exodus from its neighbour, a point acknowledged by Amnesty International.
"Kenya disproportionately shoulders the responsibility for massive refugee flows from Somalia and needs more support from the international community, including EU countries to provide durable solutions for these people," said Kagaria.
Somalia has been embroiled in chaos since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The latest insurgency, which pits al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab against the weak Western-backed government, kicked off in early 2007. Tens of thousands have been killed in fighting, while over one million people have fled their homes.