Somali-Kenyans registered as refugees caught in conundrum.


Monday, December 2, 2013
By Bosire Boniface

Newly arrived Somali refugees queue August 14, 2011, to receive their initial food and other rations immediately after registering at the Dadaab refugee complex. Now that the government wants to close the camps, Somali-Kenyans fear being swept up in the repatriation process. [Tony Karumba/AFP]



Abdi Osman Sharmake, a 34-year-old Somali-Kenyan, is in a rush against time to reverse his refugee status at the Dadaab refugee complex.

Sharmake said he falsely registered as a refugee from Somalia in 2004 in order to benefit from aid assistance offered to refugees in Hagadera camp. 

“I have been haunted by that decision to register as a refugee,” he told Sabahi. “I have been unable get the Kenyan identification card and other rights accorded to Kenyan citizens like voting and free movement in the country.”

Sharmake, who was born in Kenya to parents who have never been to Somalia, said he registered as a refugee because he thought he would have a better chance of being relocated to a third country by the International Organisation for Migration.

“My cousin had registered as a refugee in about 1994,” Sharmake said. “He was one of the lucky beneficiaries relocated [to the United States] in 2003. That inspired me to register.”

Sharmake seized the opportunity to register among a wave of Somali refugees arriving at Dadaab in September 2004, fleeing battles between the militias of Barre Adam Shire Hirale and General Mohammed Said Hersi Morgan over the control of Kismayo.

Since then, he has received food and basic necessitates such as clothing, he said, but has never been considered for the relocation programme.

For the past nine years, Sharmake continued to live with his family in his native Welmerer village, less than a kilometre from Dadaab, hoping his luck would change and going into the camp to follow up on his relocation application regularly.

“I only go to my allocated shelter when there are official activities like food distribution and medical camps,” he told Sabahi. “The other times, my shelter is occupied by relatives from Somalia.”

Sharmake said he is among hundreds of Somali-Kenyans who tried to benefit as refugees but are now urgently seeking to reverse their status. The rush to reverse their status has been sparked by continued threats by the Kenyan government to close down the camps and mixed messages surrounding the repatriation process.

On November 10th, Kenya, Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) signed an agreement in Nairobi ensuring the voluntary repatriations of Somali refugees. But on November 23rd, Kenyan Secretary of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government Joseph Ole Lenku ordered the closure of refugee camps and all aid agencies supporting refugee operations in Kenya to move their operations to Somalia.

Lenku told Sabahi that the government would “stop at nothing to close down the camps to safeguard the security of Kenyans”. However, he declined to comment on how his order to immediately close the camps and the tripartite agreement for voluntary repatriation could be implemented simultaneously.

Commenting on the timing and safety concerns for returning refugees, he said, “The argument that al-Shabaab pose a threat to the returning Somalis does not hold. In effect, al-Shabaab is a threat to Kenya as long as the camps exist.”

“The camps were established because of internecine clan wars in Somalia which we believe have been solved,” Lenku added.

The sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in north-eastern Kenya, shown here in an aerial photograph made April 12, 2013, is home to more than 400,000 mainly Somali refugees. [Tony Karumba/AFP]


Path to obtaining identification documents tedious for Somali-Kenyans

Meanwhile, Sharmarke said it has been difficult to undo his decision to register as a refugee.

“We have applied repeatedly to the local government offices for citizenship but we are yet to get positive response,” he said.

The bureaucracy involved in acquiring Kenyan identity cards has been at the centre of this issue, said former Deputy Speaker of Kenya’s National Assembly Farah Maalim Mohammed.

It is a very difficult task for a Somali-Kenyan to be issued with a national identity card, he told Sabahi.

Mohammed, who represented Lagdera Constituency in Garissa County, where Dadaab is located, said Somali-Kenyans are asked to produce their parents’ and even grandparents’ identity as proof that they are genuine Kenyans.

Parents and grandparents who do not have identity cards would have to through the same hassle to acquire one themselves, he said, adding that there are people who are over 50 years old in the region who have never been issued identity cards.

“Having Kenyan birth and school certificates and affidavits is not a guarantee that one will be issued an identity card,” he said, adding that it takes years for applications to be processed.

“In most cases the application is turned down,” he said. “If the parents and grandparents do not have the document, their children and grandchildren have no chance of being recognised as citizens.”

Dadaab District Officer Bernard ole Kipury said those who registered as refugees must undergo a vigorous vetting process before they are de-registered to ensure accuracy.

Nonetheless, Kipury admitted that Kenyans who are not of Somali origin, especially in other parts of the country, have a different experience applying for citizenship documents.

“They do not have to go through the rigours of vetting committees and waiting for years to get the document,” he told Sabahi. “We have to be cautious in their vetting because some genuine refugees may infiltrate the exercise and acquire Kenyan citizenship.”

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