Somalis sent back home in fear of al-Shabab

Suspected Somali illegal migrants and refugees arrested in a police swoop arrive at a holding station in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, 7 April 2014 Image copyright Reuters

"I live in constant fear. I don't go anywhere because I face threats from all sides," says the 39-year-old Somali man who asks me not to use his name.

"I was taken in handcuffs onto a Turkish Airlines plane in London, and flown to Mogadishu via Istanbul. In Istanbul, the British guards accompanying me beat me to the ground, breaking my front tooth."

The man, who tells me by phone he is now living in a makeshift shelter in a displaced persons' camp in the Somali capital, was living as an asylum-seeker in the UK until 3 May.

His is the first known case of a Somali being forcibly removed to Mogadishu under what the UK Home Office describes in legal documents related to his case as a new "Somalia test pilot scheme".

"An old friend of mine gives me rations of oil and rice, and a little money to buy fresh vegetables. That's all the help I get."

He lives in the north of Mogadishu, where the Islamist al-Shabab group still has a significant presence and which is a virtual no-go area for the security forces.

Much of Somalia has been a war-zone for more than 20 years and many southern and central areas remain under the control of al-Shabab, where they enforce strict Islamic law.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many of those who are forcibly returned to Mogadishu end up living in displacement camps in the city

"Some men came to me, and searched my pockets. They said they knew I had come from the West, and accused me of spying for the Somali government," he said.

"I am afraid that one day I will be killed."

The Home Office said it would not comment on individual cases, but said in a statement: "When an individual is found to no longer have the right to remain in the UK, we expect them to leave the country voluntarily.

"If they fail to do so we will seek to enforce their removal."

Security crackdown

The man from the UK is one of a growing number of Somalis being forcibly removed to Somalia from Europe, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Kenya.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Several hundred Somalis living in Kenya have been deported to Mogadishu since April
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kenyan police arrested thousands of Somalis as it prepared to begin deportations

Western governments argue that parts of Somalia, including Mogadishu, under government control are now safe enough to receive some failed asylum-seekers.

Thousands of Somalis have voluntarily returned home in recent years but most of them have connections in the country and resources. They also have the documents to leave again should the situation change.

Human rights organisations and the UN do not agree that Mogadishu is now safe.

Human Rights Watch cites the example of 26-year-old Said Ahmed Said who was wounded in a suicide attack in Mogadishu two days after he was forcibly removed from Holland.

Mr Said fled Somalia as a young child and had not set foot in the country for more than 20 years; his spoken Somali is poor.

While the numbers of Somalis removed from Europe and the US is low, probably no more than a few dozen in total, hundreds have in the past few months been forced on to planes in Kenya and flown to Mogadishu.

This follows a massive security operation, launched in April, in which thousands of Somalis in Kenya have been rounded up and detained, many in a stadium in the capital, Nairobi.

One of them was Mariam Abubakar Ali, a registered refugee in Kenya.

She told me she is now living in a squatters' camp in Mogadishu.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Somalis being screened for deportation were held in a stadium in Nairobi
Image copyright AP
Image caption Many were separated from their families during the swoop by Kenya's security forces
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption They were all photographed and fingerprinted and some prepared for deportation against their will

"I was living with my three children in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. I went to Nairobi for medical treatment, but was rounded up and forced on to a plane to Mogadishu.

"I have been separated from my children, the youngest of whom is only five years old.

"Will I ever see them again?" she asked.

As Ms Ali is a registered refugee, the UN refugee agency is trying to get her back to Kenya, but for now she is stuck in Mogadishu.

"I am living a desperate and terrifying existence. I don't know what I will eat for dinner this evening.

"Some men came in the night calling my name. I don't know what they wanted, but I kept quiet and hid until they went away."

Deportations to Somalia:

  • Saudi Arabia: 33,605 between December 2013 and May 2014
  • Kenya: 359 - including at least three registered refugees - between 9 April 2014 and 20 May 2014
  • Holland: 5 in 2013
  • Sweden: 1 known
  • UK: 1 known

Sources: IOM/ Human Rights Watch

The Somali government says it considers "the detention and deportation of Somali refugees, both documented and undocumented, to be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees".

Most dramatic is the recent forced removal of tens of thousands of Somalis from Saudi Arabia.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 33,603 Somalis were returned to Mogadishu from Saudi Arabia between December 2013 and May 2014.

The Somalis in Saudi Arabia, including hundreds of women and children, were kept in overcrowded detention centres before being deported.

Some say they were beaten, and none were allowed to make refugee claims. The Saudi authorities say it was part of crackdown on all illegal migrant workers.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There are about 340,000 Somalis registered as refugees at the Dadaab refugee camp in north-east Kenya

According to Gerry Simpson of Human Rights Watch, "Saudi Arabia should allow anyone fearing serious ill-treatment at home to claim refugee status, with help from the UN, if needed."

Some of the Somalis have family or friends to go to, although some have told me they are kicked out after a few days.

Others, like Ms Ali and the man removed from the UK, live in desperate conditions in makeshift camps.

Their fear of ill-treatment appears well-founded.

'Days numbered'

In December 2013, an al-Shabab commander, Ali Mohamed Hussein, described Somalis who had spent time in the West as those "who have been taught garbage, evil and lack of religion and are being used to spread evil".

"They are the same as the infidels they are working for as far as we are concerned. They will be killed and fought against in the same manner."

Despite efforts to recruit young disillusioned Somalis in the diaspora, another member of the al-Qaeda-linked group agreed most had been corrupted by Western influences and would be dealt with.

"If you are a spy, there is only one punishment; you will get a one-way ticket to the day of judgement," he told me by phone.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Al-Shabab often organise public gatherings to witness floggings, amputations and executions

"You will be killed, whether you are a man or a woman. If you are found guilty, you will face the firing squad in a public place.

"Everybody must witness the killing of spies. A spy must be killed with three, four or five bullets to the head."

The Somali forcibly removed from the UK told me he fears his days are numbered.

"Here, I am a dying man. My life in the UK was difficult, but I had peace and I could get help.

"Here, if I go out, there is no guarantee that I will come back alive."

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