Refugees, terrorists or scapegoats?
Because of persistent attacks globally, terrorism has become synonymous "refugees". Kenya has been the scene of various attacks attributed to terrorism since 1980, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization attacked the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi. 18 years later, in 1998, the Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing of the US embassy. After that, the attacks became more regular and bolder, with the Westgate attack in 2013, the Mpeketoni Massacre in 2014, and the Mandera Bus and Garissa University College attacks in 2015, all by the Somali-based Al Shabaab.
Last month, the Islamic State ( IS) wrecked havoc in Paris, leaving at least 130 dead, and many more wounded. Like those in Kenya, many were quick to attribute the Paris attacks to refugees seeking asylum from the crisis in Syria.
Do refugees really pose a terrorism threat as some have claimed?
The suggestion to close down the Dadaab Refugee Camp for harbouring terrorists as advanced by government has been termed as irrational and inhumane because it cannot be verified that the refugees are the terrorists. On the other hand, it could be argued that it is quite easy for groups such as Islamic State and Al Shabaab to convince the refugees to join their cause, particularly because of the political frustrations that ensure a huge chunk do not gain asylum status to integrate into their host societies.
Dadaab, located near the border with Somalia, is the largest refugee camp in Africa. Deputy President William Ruto, after the Garissa University College massacre, gave the global refugee agency, UNHCR, three months to close down the camp and (forcefully) repatriate its occupants to Somalia, or else “we will do it ourselves.”
Syrians and Iraqis have been fleeing civ- il unrest in their countries, but the refugee crisis grabbed the attention of the world last month when they imposed themselves in the European nations due to the intensity of the crisis – many risked death in treacherous journeys across the sea.
The debate on refugees is centred on terrorism, globally. By opening our doors to these refugees, it does, in way, provide avenues for radicals to enter foreign borders where they soon launch their violent attacks. But does expelling them from our borders proffer the solution?
There is no denying that refugee camps often provide fertile ground for the emergence of terrorist groups. During the Palestinian Refugee Crisis of 1948, among the militant groups that emerged included Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Additionally the Afghan refugee community in Pakistan is responsible for the Taliban and subsequently Al Shabaab. So speaking, there are legitimate security concerns.
Quite understandably, nations and their citizens are concerned. However, both sides of the coin must be evaluated. What happens to the innocent refugees sent back to Somalia from Kenya, for example? And how can the government deal with the terrorists pausing as refugees?
The principle of non-refoulment ought to offer some pointers in this debate. The principle is part of customary international law and is binding on all states, whether or not they are party to the Geneva Convention. A core principle of International Refugee Law prohibits states from returning refugees in any manner whatsoever to countries or territories in which their lives or freedom may be threatened.
The principle basically bars William Ruto from sending, expelling, returning or otherwise transferring (refoulment) a refugee to a “territory where life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group”, as provided for in Article 33(1) of the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Like any other principle, it is not an unqualified principle, and it has a number of exceptions. First, a refugee who may pose security threat to the host country may be denied the benefits of the principle – in this case, the refugees accused of being terrorists. Second, the principle does not apply to a person who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country. Lastly, the benefit of the convention is to be denied to any person suspected of committing a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, a serious nonpolitical crime outside the country of refuge, or acts contrary to the purposes and principle of the United Nations [Articles 33 (2) and 1 (F) of the 1951 Convention].
Before government takes the drastic action of closing down the camp – as Thailand did during the forcible repatriation of 45,000 Cambodian refugees at Prasat Preah Vihear in 1979 (a classic example of refoulment). The refugees were forced at gunpoint across the border into a minefield and Thai soldiers shot those who refused to move – it is important that it proves and demonstrates that those refugees have put the nation's security at risk.
“The actual security risks now are low, but the potential ones are considerable if the refugee crisis is handled poorly. Policing, service provision, and local governance need to be catered for; by integrating the refugees into local communities, the risk of them becoming radicalised reduces,” offers a Red Cross official.^