Kenya issues ultimatum on Somalis
NAIROBI — Kenya said it has asked the UN refugee agency to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees by July in the wake of the Garissa University massacre.
“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” a government statement quoted Vice President William Ruto as saying in a speech on Saturday.
The UNHCR said on Sunday it had not received the Kenyan request, but added that refugees cannot be forcibly repatriated.
Shebab insurgents from Somalia claimed responsibility for the 2 April 2015 attack on the university in the east of the country which left nearly 150 people dead.
Garissa is about 100km from the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp near the border with Somalia.
UNHCR spokesperson Emmanuel Nyabera told AFP in Nairobi: “We have not received any formal communication or formal request from the Kenyan government along this line.”
He added: “Kenya has an international obligation to protect the refugees and that includes no forceful repatriation to the country of origin.”
And Human Rights Watch said that sending the refugees back would be “illegal”.
“Instead of making refugees scapegoats, Kenya — which is legally obliged to protect them until they can go home safely — should find and prosecute those responsible for the Garissa massacre,” said Leslie Lefkow, the rights group’s Africa deputy director.
Somali refugees in Kenya number about 450 000, most of them at Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, the UNHCR said.
The camp opened in 1991 after the collapse of Somalia’s hard line Siad Barre regime when the country plunged into chaos.
The Kenyan government had already sought the closure of Dadaab after the September 2013 Shebaab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 people dead, saying the camp was a breeding ground for Islamist militants.
In November that year, Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR signed a joint deal to back the voluntary repatriation of Somalis.
The Kenyan government has come under harsh criticism for failing to prevent the Garissa massacre and for a bungled response.
“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” Ruto pledged in Saturday’s speech, according to the statement. — AFP