Kenya: The Controversial Repatriation of Somali Refugees From Kenya

On 10 November 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to repatriate Somali refugees from Kenya to ‘safe areas’ in southern Somalia.

The exercise was expected to be voluntary. The idea was conceptualised after the new Somali Federal Government was formed, and the agreement came amid reports that between 30 000 and 80 000 refugees had freely returned to Somalia since January 2013.

Against the backdrop of the 21 September 2013 terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, however, Kenya’s renewed resolve to repatriate Somali refugees is seen more as a move buttressed by Nairobi’s security concerns.

This is particularly evident from allegations that some of the terrorist attackers had used the Daadab Refugee Complex in north-eastern Kenya as their logistical base.

The Kenyan government has also maintained that it has been shouldering a disproportionately huge number of Somali refugees, with limited support from the international community.

Of concern, however, is whether the current security environment inside Somalia is amenable to voluntary repatriation, and if the Kenyan government will observe the human rights obligations relating to Somali refugees – in particular the principle of non-refoulement.

Central to refugee law, this principle provides for the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedom may be threatened.

It is emphasised in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Kenya is a state party, together with its 1967 Protocol and the 1967 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention governing specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa.

Following the signing of the tripartite agreement, non-governmental organisations such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), INTERSOS, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) and Tearfund expressed their willingness to assist with the voluntary repatriation process, but pertinently urged for continued engagement in the ‘processes and plans around solutions and the practical implications of the tripartite agreement’.[Read more]