UNHCR urges Kenya to halt forced return of Somali refugees

The UN refugee agency calls on the Kenyan government to halt its returns of thousands of Somalis from a border camp in the north-east of the country.

Somali refugees at a camp in north-eastern Kenya.  © UNHCR/R.Gangale

GENEVA, November 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Wednesday called on the Kenyan government to immediately halt its returns of Somalis from a border camp in the north-east of the country.

In a press statement released in Geneva, UNHCR said it was making this appeal "in light of orders issued by local authorities to the more than 8,000 refugees at the [Border Point One] camp, telling them to cross the border back into Somalia. As of yesterday [Tuesday] some refugees had proceeded into no-man's land."

"We urge Kenya's government to urgently halt further returns and allow those in no-man's land to come back," the statement said.

A UNHCR team visited the area on Wednesday after receving several phone calls from desperate refugee leaders. The team confirmed that one group of Somalis was in the no-man's land between Kenya and Somali while a second group had moved towards the border with Ethiopia.

The press statement said UNHCR, in its advice to governments, had made clear that people fleeing central and southern Somalia were at substantial risk and that their international protection needs must be respected.

The population at the Border Point 1 camp mainly comprises children, women and the elderly - all of whom have fled there to escape recent fighting between Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Janaa forces in the Somali town of Bulla Hawa.

Kenya has for many years generously hosted tens of thousands of Somali refugees. "To be forcibly returning people to Somalia now betrays that spirit, places lives at risk and contravenes the principles of non-refoulement - or non forced return - that are contained in Kenya's Constitution, its Refugees Act and in international refugee law," the UNHCR statement said.