HRW urges Kenya, donors to intervene in Somalia refugee crisis

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- International human rights organisation, the Human Right s Watch (HRW) has charged the Kenyan government, foreign donors and UN agencies t o urgently respond seriously to the worsening Somali refugee crisis in Kenya.
More than 65,000 Somali refugees will have sought refuge in Kenya by the end of this year, up from 19,000 in 2007.
The new arrivals, the international right abuse watchdog claimed, often face ext ortion and abuses when trying to cross Kenya's officially closed border and are r eceived in appalling conditions in overcrowded and under serviced refugee camps.
"Desperate civilians escaping the devastating conflict in Somalia need help, not more danger, abuse and deprivation," Gerry Simpson, refugee researcher for HRW, said in a news release received here Friday.
"They should be able to cross the border safely and then get the aid in Kenya th at they urgently need," Simpson stated.
Citing security concerns, Kenya closed its 682-kilometre border with Somalia in January 2007, when Ethiopian troops intervened in support of Somalia's weak tran s itional government and ousted a coalition of Islamic courts from Somalia's capit a l, Mogadishu.
The border closure has forced tens of thousands of refugees to use smuggling net works to cross the porous border into Kenya.
It also led the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to close its transit c entre, where all refugees were registered and given health checks before being t r ansported to the camps.
HRW claims that closing the border to refugees violated the international refuge e law prohibition against forced return and has resulted in serious abuses.
Some refugees said they were forced back to Somalia because they could not pay b ribes to Kenyan police.
A number of others were arrested, held in appalling detention conditions in the camps or nearby towns, beaten and in some cases deported to Somalia.
"Kenya has legitimate security concerns and a right to control its borders, but its borders can't be closed to refugees fleeing fighting," Simpson said, adding " closing the border has only made Somali refugees more vulnerable to abuse and le s sened the government's and UNHCR's control over who enters Kenya and who is regi s tered in the camps.
" Even if they manage to enter Kenya, the new arrivals face enormous challenges ge tting even minimal assistance.
Most head to one of three camps near Dadaab town, the only place in Kenya where they are entitled to shelter and care; built in 1991 for 90,000 people, the Dada a b camps now shelter almost 250,000, most of them Somali refugees.
In late August 2008, the camps were declared officially full.
Since then, new ar rivals have received no shelter materials and have been forced to live with rela t ives or strangers in cramped tents or huts.
UNHCR estimates that 34,000 new shelters are needed to meet international aid st andards, but it only has funds to build 3,000 and no land on which to build them .
"The UN failed to plan adequately for the influx, and with no end in sight to th e fighting, there could be 300,000 Somalis in Dadaab by the end of 2009," Simpso n said.
"The UN humanitarian coordinator should step in immediately to reach an agreemen t with the Kenyan government for more land and to convince donors to fund refuge e s' most basic needs.
" The crisis in Dadaab is made worse still by UNHCR's inability to keep up with th e rate of new arrivals.
HRW therefore called on donors to provide immediate emergency funding to UNHCR a nd humanitarian organizations working in Dadaab to ensure that new arrivals are p romptly registered and provided with shelter and other essential assistance.

14 november 2008 15:27:00




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