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Mixed feelings over Kenya's move to close Dadaab refugee camp

19 April 2015, 17:39

Nairobi - The safety of the close to 350,000 Somali refugees at the Dadaab camp in northeast Kenya has been of the major concern for UNHCR and other individuals opposed to Kenya's forceful repatriation following raging attacks by Somali radical group Al-Shabaab.

The UN refugee agency, which said it has not received formal request from Kenya, insists that large-scale returns are not possible as many of the refugees are scared of going back to their motherland due to security concerns.

Majority of the refugees are said to had come from Mogadishu, Lower Juba and Gedo area, places the UNHCR said security situation is still unclear due to Al-Shabaab presence.

But Mohamed Hassan, who fetches firewood near the camp for a living, are happy to go home.

"I am personally exited with the idea of taking us back home. I will be the first person to board the bus when that time comes. They say East or West, home is the best," said the 35-year-old, who has been at the refugee camp for ten years.

He said he is "tired" with that kind of life in the camp and wants to go back home and engage in what he terms as meaningful jobs.

"You see my fellow refugees seem to be missing the point. This country has been good enough to us for a long period of time. They have hosted us for years and as a visitor there is a timeframe in which you can be accommodated by your host," he said.

He admitted that he has on numerous occasions been arrested by Kenyan security officials as he tried to sneak out of the camps to Nairobi.

"I have really tried to travel to Nairobi with the help of brokers whom I have paid a good amount of money to facilitate my movement. Unfortunately, we are always arrested even before getting to Garissa. That is why I want to go back to my county where I will not be restricted by anyone in my movements," he added.

Xinhua also met a group of six young boys who said they all have gone through the Kenya education system all through at the Dagahaley camp and spoke fluent local Swahili language.

Yusuf Abdi, 22, who attained a mean grade of B-, said that the government's move has confused him.

"I was born and bred in this refugee camp some 22 years ago. My life has revolved around this camp. I have gone to school through the Kenyan education system. I know almost everything about Kenya unlike in Somalia where I know nothing about," he said.

"Surely where will I start when they bundle me in a bus and drop me in that troubled country would rather die than go back to that country," he said.

His sentiments are echoed by Nurdin Kassim, who said that majority of the refugees are not involved in terrorist attacks happening on Kenya soil.

The 21-year-old however admitted that there is nothing they can do to stop the government from expatriating them because, according to him, they "don't have any say".

Even as the debate on whether the refugees should stay or be repatriated back to their home county goes on, one thing that has become clear is that the majority especially the young and the elderly are against the idea and that they would rather stay in the camps for the rest of their lives than go back to their troubled country.

Aid agencies argue that Somalia does not have effective control over many parts of south and central Somalia where generalized violence and insecurity persists and residents have frequently been subject to both indiscriminate and targeted attacks.

According to relief agencies, if refugees are sent back to these areas, they risk human rights abuses, such as rape and killings, as well as extortion.

Under international law, states are prohibited from forcibly returning people to a place where they would be at real risk of human rights violations. This is known as the principle of non- refoulement.

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- Xinhua


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