(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Turned back at the border

Somali refugees queue up outside the gate of the UNHCR compound prior to admission to Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya, October 2008.
Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Just when he thought he had found sanctuary in Kenya, Hassan Abdulle, 43, says he was ordered by security officials there to cross the nearby border back into the battle-scarred Somali town of Bulo Hawo.



Abdulle, a father of six, was among thousands of Somali families who in March had fled renewed fighting in Bulo Hawo between pro-government forces and Al-Shabab militants. They had clashed for control of the town several times in 2010.



"We went to Mandera [a Kenyan town about 1km to the west of Bulo Hawo] because it is the closest town to us," Abdulle told IRIN on 5 April. "We were there for almost two weeks when Kenyan government forces told us to leave and return to our homes. We had no choice, so we left even though it was still dangerous to return."



Escalating hostilities in Somalia have prompted some 10,000 people to flee to Kenya every month this year, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).



It took Mustaf Abdi, 18, four days from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to get to the town of Dobley near the Kenyan border.



"We had to dodge many checkpoints manned by militia," Abdi said, adding that his group arrived in Dobley at the end of March only to find the town engulfed in fighting between Al-Shabab and a pro-government militia.



"We had to flee again into the bush. There were several young men in the group and we were particularly afraid because these people [militias] like to force us to join them.



"We finally made into Liboi [about 18km inside Kenya] on 1 April," Abdi said.



He said his group of more than 100 people, mostly women and children, were told they could not enter Kenya.



"A group of us young men [13] left and tried to enter on foot but were captured by Kenyan police," Abdi said. "We were arrested and held for five days in Liboi. We were released this morning [5 April] and escorted to Somalia, from where I am now talking to you."



Abdi said most of his group was still hoping to be allowed into Kenya.



"I hope they will change their minds and allow us to enter; there is nowhere for us to return to. There is fighting everywhere," he said.



Call to stop deportations



Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Kenyan government to "immediately stop deporting back to Somalia civilians fleeing the conflict there".



In a statement on 31 March, the group said Kenya should allow humanitarian agencies to assist Somalis displaced by fighting and should not close makeshift camps without providing alternative sites and offering displaced people the opportunity to seek asylum.



According to HRW, on 17 March, Kenyan authorities ordered the Kenya Red Cross Society to stop providing services at a temporary refugee camp in Mandera, which was housing 13,000 people, many of them Somalis who had fled fighting in Bulo Hawo.



"That evening, according to several organizations working in Mandera, government officials accompanied by armed Kenyan security forces intimidated camp residents, telling them to leave the camp and return to Somalia by noon the next day,” HRW said in the statement.



UNHCR spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera told IRIN of events in Mandera: “Our position is that these are not forced returns.”



He added that his understanding of the Kenyan argument, and its reason for telling the Red Cross to cease aid distributions to the Somalis, was that the situation in Bulo Hawo had stabilized.



“As a result some Somalis went back. Others remained with host families in Mandera,” Nyabera told IRIN.



“Whenever we hear of cases [of forced returns] we raise the issue through the government and the central and local level,” he said.



“We have occasionally heard that people have been sent back, especially at the Liboi level,” he added.



Kenya’s border with Somalia has been officially closed since January 2007.



ah/mw/am



See also:

KENYA-SOMALIA: Aid critical as calm returns to border region

SOMALIA: Perilous journey to "land of milk and honey" ends in deportations

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