Kenya refugee return scheme flouts international law: HCR
The repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya's Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, breaks international standards as many returns are motivated by fear, a Human Rights Watch report said.
Kenya wants to close Dadaab in north-east Kenya by November, insisting the camp is a security threat and a drain on national resources. It currently houses some 266,000 Somali refugees.
But the rights watchdog said after a visit to the camp last month that many Somalis return home involuntarily, only to face danger, persecution and hunger.
"Many refugees ... say they have agreed to return home because they fear Kenya will force them out if they stay," said HRW after interviewing around 100 refugees at the camp.
Refugees spoke of intimidation by the Kenyan government, lack of information on ways of remaining or on conditions in Somalia, and fears of losing a $400 repatriation cash grant if they wind up being deported at the end of the year.
"The Kenyan authorities are not giving Somali refugees a real choice between staying and leaving, and the UN refugee agency isn't giving people accurate information about security conditions in Somalia," said HRW's refugee rights director Bill Frelick in a statement.
"There is no way these returns can be considered voluntary."
This violated the 1951 international Refugee Convention, the report said.
Kenya's repatriation programme, "fuelled by fear and misinformation, does not meet international standards for voluntary refugee return," the rights group said.
Since sending troops into neighbouring Somalia om 2011, Kenya has come under repeated attack from Shabaab, East Africa's long-time branch of Al-Qaeda, Islamic State's rivals.
Nairobi has taken a hardline position, claiming Dadaab acts as a terrorist training ground for Shabaab Islamists, and has publicly and repeatedly said all the Somali refugees would be removed from the country by the end of the year.
Just 24,000 refugees have taken up the offer of voluntary return since the programme began in December 2014, of whom 18,000 returned in 2016, including 10,000 after the announcement of the camp's closure.
The vast majority of residents of the sprawling Dadaab complex of camps close to the Kenya-Somalia border fled Somalia's more than two-decade-long conflict. Many remain fearful of returning to a country where insecurity remains rife and life is tough.