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Kenya likely to Miss Self-Imposed Deadline of November 30 to Close Dadaab Refugee Camp

The UNHCR and humanitarian agencies have come under pressure to suspend the repatriation process until the situation in Somalia improves

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FILE - Somali refugees walk through an area housing new arrivals, on the outskirts of Hagadera Camp outside Dadaab, Kenya. VOA

A Kenyan official has said the country may not be able to meet its self-imposed deadline of November 30 to close the huge Dadaab refugee camp. Tens of thousands of Somalis have left the camp in recent months, but they are finding it impossible to scratch out a living back in Somalia.

Monday, Reuters news agency quoted an Kenyan interior ministry official as saying the deadline for closing Dadaab will not be met, because Somalia cannot provide basic services to the returnees.

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The ministry has not issued an official statement, and the spokesman declined to comment when contacted by VOA Tuesday.

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But it has become clear that Somalis returning home are facing dire humanitarian conditions, including a lack of shelter, clean water, health care and food.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, more than 34,000 refugees have gone back to Somalia, with most settling in the port city of Kismayo.

The vice chairman of the refugee and IDP agency in Somalia’s Jubaland region, Mohamed Noor, says there are no essential social services in place to cater for the returnees.

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Noor says the returnees had a good life, good health services, and their children were in school getting an education in Dadaab, but when they got to Kismayo there was nothing for them, so his agency decided to stop receiving people temporarily.

FILE - newly arrived Somali refugees wait outside a UNHCR processing center at the Ifo refugee camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border. VOA
FILE – newly arrived Somali refugees wait outside a UNHCR processing center at the Ifo refugee camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border. VOA

Jubaland authorities have refused to accept more returnees from Dadaab for the time being, saying they could not cope with the number of returnees.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa Michelle Kagari says Kenya’s government is coercing refugees to return to Somalia, where they risk being injured or killed in the chronic conflict.

“We have also reviewed the surveys done by the UNHCR, Kenya, and MSF which found a vast of Somalis in Dadaab did not want to return, so on that front we found out that these returns can in no way be seen as voluntary,” Kagari said.

Kismayo’s deputy mayor Abdi Ibrahim Abdi Barre agrees. He says there is nothing to show the returnees have received assistance. He says those repatriated from Dadaab were released to fend for themselves with a stipend that is not enough to live on and are back looking for support.

Some observers fear some of the returnees, mostly children and young men, may be forced to join al-Shabab.

FILE - parts of Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, are seen from a helicopter in northern Kenya. VOA
FILE – parts of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, are seen from a helicopter in northern Kenya. VOA

Kagari says some returnees faced threats and persecution for failing to cooperate with militants.

“There were two boys in particular whose father was killed in front of them they were forcefully recruited into al-Shabab they managed to escape after four months and made their way back to Kenya now they are being required to go back again … Anyone who is returned to Somalia will likely face persecution,” she said.

The UNHCR and humanitarian agencies have come under pressure to suspend the repatriation process until the situation in Somalia improves. (VOA)

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Cutoff of Internet Service at Rakhine, Chin States Creates Difficulty for Civilians who Cannot Access Donors Online to Make Aid Requests

Rakhine residents also report that they cannot conduct bank transactions or connect with relatives and friends at home and aboard

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FILE - Residents carry the body of an ethnic Rakhine woman for burial in Rathedaung township, after fresh fighting in Rakhine state between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, Feb. 21, 2019. VOA

The cutoff of internet service to conflict-affected areas of western Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine and Chin states has created a difficult situation for civilians who cannot access donors online to make aid requests, though the state government said it will step in to fill the void and help them, locals and officials said Monday.

Citing ongoing fighting between national forces and the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar government on June 20 ordered four telecom operators to temporarily stop providing internet services to eight townships in Rakhine state and one township in neighboring Chin state where battles have taken place.

“Because we can’t use the internet, nobody knows about the difficulties we are facing here,” said Naing Oo Maung, a resident of Poeshipyin village in Rakhine’s Ponnagyun township. “Because we can’t post our information online, we can only ask civil society organizations for help by phone.”

“We cannot read or listen to the news, so we don’t know the current situation,” he added. “We have no more medicine in the [displaced persons] camps now. Children are sick, but we can’t ask for help online.” Rakhine residents also report that they cannot conduct bank transactions or connect with relatives and friends at home and aboard.

Domestic and international NGOs and other organizations say they their ability to provide aid has been limited by the internet shutdown as well because they cannot receive information to help some of the roughly 34,000 people who have been displaced by clashes between the Myanmar military and the AA, whose ethnic Rakhine soldiers seek greater autonomy in Rakhine state.

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Arakan Army soldiers pass through a wooded area in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state in an undated photo. RFA

Zaw Zaw Tun, a relief volunteer in the region and secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, said residents displaced by fighting usually send aid organizations photos and videos so the groups know what supplies are needed.

“When we hear that people in a particular location have a problem or a need, we usually ask locals for photos and video files,” he said. “We can see the real situation in that place and can make a decision [to help or not]. If we cannot verify this, then we may receive fake reports. Because we can’t use the internet, it is difficult to believe what we have heard [without seeing it].”

Khin Maung Latt, an upper house lawmaker who represents Rakhine state’s No. 2 constituency in Myanmar’s national parliament, said political representatives can post online aid requests on behalf of their constituents.

“If we post information on social media such as Facebook, about 1,000 or 10,000 people will know [about it] in a few minutes, and they can help the IDPs [internally displaced persons] quickly,” he said. “We can let the donors know the truth about the situation of the IDPs by posting their pictures online. Now, they are suffering because internet service is cut off.”

Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myint suggested that displaced civilians call local officials for help. “If IDPs need help, they can contact the state government office via township administrators or directly,” he said. “It would be easier for them to contact us through township administrators, [who] will inform us in a timely manner, and we will work on helping the IDPs as soon as possible.”

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FILE – A local resident holds up bullet casings in a village in Rathedaung township, Rakhine state, after fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

A ‘fundamental human right’

Rights groups say internet service is vital for people who rely on it to stay informed about developments in the armed conflict.

“Internet services are not supposed to be cut under any conditions,” said Maung Saungkha, spokesman for Athan, a domestic organization that advocates freedom of expression in Myanmar. “As a consequence of the shutdown, the citizens cannot be informed about deaths and injuries in the conflict area. There will be heavier losses.”

“Access to internet service is fundamental human right, so we implore the government to restore the internet service,” he added. Min Lwin Oo, a legal advisor at the Norway-based Asian Human Rights Commission, agreed.

“The internet connection shutdown blocks the regular flow of information,” he said. “It delays human rights observers from acquiring relevant information on rights violations in the conflict areas. It also hinders the completion of real-time action.”

Hostilities between Myanmar forces and the AA intensified in late 2018 and again in January, when Arakan soldiers carried out deadly attacks on police outposts.

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Rakhine State, Myanmar. VOA

Myo Nyunt, spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, suggested last week that the rebel forces could be using the network to spy on the Myanmar military’s operations and to transfer data involving military intelligence.

On Saturday, the United States became the latest party to call for an immediate end of the blockage of internet-based communications for roughly 1 million people in the two states. “Internet service should be restored without delay,” said a press statement issued by State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

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“Resumption of service would help facilitate transparency in and accountability for what the government claims are law enforcement actions aimed at preventing further outbreaks of violence in the affected areas, and would limit further damage to Burma’s international reputation,” it said, referring to Myanmar’s former name.

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, along with the rights groups Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch also issued warnings last week about the cutoff of internet-based communications and called for the restoration of service in the region. (RFA)