Against UNHCR advice, several European countries take steps to enforce returns to Mogadishu

by zoejardiniere

22. 02.13 This month, the Norwegian authorities decided to lift the suspension on all forced returns to Mogadishu and southern Somalia. Such returns had been suspended since October 2010 due to the severity of the situation in the region. However, the Norwegian authorities consider that the situation in Mogadishu is no longer so critical that all asylum seekers need protection and decided to revoke the suspension of returns. The risks of return to these areas of Somalia will be individually evaluated.

This move follows a joint Danish – Norwegian mission to Nairobi and Mogadishu in October 2012 that produced a report surmising that some improvement in the security situation in Mogadishu could be observed. However, the report also noted that there remain ‘a lot’ of collateral civilian casualties and targeted assassinations as well as concerns over the presence of government-backed militias and little police engagement. The report emphasised that Somalia is not a post-conflict state, but that the conflict in the country continues to evolve. Furthermore, the team reduced the amount of time spent in Mogadishu to two visits of only one day each, due to security advice from the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Nairobi.

The immigration authorities of Denmark are also considering resuming returns to the region. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has recognized minor improvements in the general security situation in parts of Somalia, but still considers the European Court of Human Rights ruling in Sufi and Elmi vs UK relevant. “It has improved, but it’s far too early to conclude that there is peace (…) If people are willing to risk sailing to Yemen to get away then you know it is serious. It is very risky and many drown on the way over”, said Andreas Kamm, DRC’s Secretary General.

This week the forced return of a Somali asylum seeker from the Netherlands to Mogadishu has been temporarily prevented through a provisional measure called by the Dutch court.  The Netherlands has not forcibly returned anyone to Mogadishu since 2010. The Dutch Refugee Council reacted to the attempt of the Dutch authorities to enforce returns to Somalia with grave concern, arguing that last month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, urged against returns to Mogadishu in a meeting with Dutch MPs.

UNHCR Guidelines stating that we do not advise returns to South and Central Somalia are still valid. Governments need to be extremely cautious with regard to forced returns to Somalia, even if an asylum claim has been rejected after a solid procedure. In addition, forced returns from the West could undermine the incipient stabilization process in Somalia”, Melita Sunjic, an UNHCR’s Spokesperson told this Bulletin.

A report of the UN Secretary General on Somalia published on 31 January 2013 states that the security situation remains unpredictable in Mogadishu and that “Al-Shabaab attacks occurred frequently, including targeted killings and hand grenade attacks, with an increase in outlying districts”.

While Sweden’s Migration Board changed its assessment of the security situation in the region in November 2012, they maintain that it amounts to ‘severe conflict’ rather than ‘internal armed conflict’.

The majority of European states do not currently carry out forced returns to the region. 8,930 Somali persons applied for asylum in the EU from January to September 2012. However, Human Rights Watch received reports that Sweden and the UK may also be considering a resumption of deportations.

For further information:

–         Human Rights Watch, The Netherlands: Halt plans to deport Somalis, 21 February 2013

–         MSF, Hear my voice: Somalis on Living in a Humanitarian Crisis, 13 February 2013