Somalis lose refugee status

Small improvements to security in Somalia mean some refugees can be repatriated, argues the government. But the UN refugee agency warns that Somalia remains dangerous and with limited access to basic necessities

The security situation in Somalia is “serious and fragile” admits the Immigration Service after months of sustained attacks on the capital Mogadishu by Islamic militants.

But despite the insecurity in their homeland, 800 Somali refugees risk being repatriated after government reopened their cases in the autumn. The Immigration Service argues that conditions in and around the capital Mogadishu have improved to such a degree that it would not violate their human rights if they were repatriated.

After the first 22 cases were reassessed, four Somali refugees were informed that they will be repatriated – the cases are automatically appealed. The proportion of cases that will result in repatriations are expected to increase as the Immigration Service works its way from the oldest cases, dating back to around 2002, to more recent cases – the shorter their stay in Denmark, the more likely it is they will be repatriated.

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Continued volatility
The decision to reopen the cases has been criticised on a number of fronts. In a report from May 2016, the UN refugee agency UNHCR warns that access to basic necessities such as water and sanitation, as well as health care and education, are absent in many parts of Somalia.

They add that the general security situation in Mogadishu and the regions of southern and central Somalia remains volatile.

“Violence is reportedly often fuelled by disputes over land and political control. Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement.”

The Danish Foreign Ministry also advises against travelling to Somalia, due to the risk of terror attacks. A suicide attack on a hotel in Mogadishu on January 25 killed 28 and injured 43.

In an interview with Politiken, immigration minister Inger Støjberg said that while she was aware of the concerns expressed by the UNHCR, she had no reason to doubt the assessment of the Immigration Service, that it was safe to repatriate Somali refugees.

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“The government does not believe that just because a person at some point has been granted refugee status, that they can live forever in Denmark,” she said.

The government can return refugees to countries such as Somalia due to a law that was passed by the former centre-left coalition government. Previously, refugees that were given certain types of protective status in Denmark could not be repatriated unless there were fundamental and lasting changes to the stability of their home countries. Now, less substantive improvements can result in repatriation.

Both the Social Democrats (Socialdemokrater) and Social Liberal Party (Radikale) defended the law that they passed while in power. Radikale immigration spokesperson Sofie Carsten Nielsen told Politiken that she trusted the safety assessment made by the Immigration Service, despite the concerns expressed by the UNHCR.

“I have to trust the assessments made by the Danish authorities, but I hope [the concerns] lead them to seriously reconsider,” she said.

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Can assessment be trusted?
The Immigration Service has already been accused of producing politically-expedient security assessments, however. After a fact-finding mission to Ertirea in 2014, the Immigration Service published a report that justified an end to blanket protection for Eritrean asylum seekers.

“Based on the updated information, the Immigration Service does not find that, in themselves, the conditions in Eritrea regarding national service and illegal emigration constitute persecution or fulfil the necessary demand for protection,” the Ministry of Justice stated in a press release at the time.

The report and new policy was later retracted, after sources accused the Immigration Service of selecting evidence to suit a political agenda.

“The Danish report seems more like a political effort to stem migration than an honest assessment of Eritrea’s human rights situation,” said deputy director for Human Rights Watch Africa Division, Leslie Lefkow, in a press release.

The Immigration Service’s report on Somalia is now also under scrutiny. According to Politiken, one civil servant was sent to Somalia in 2015 to gather information, but they only stayed one day in the airport district in Mogadishu – it was too dangerous to stay any longer.

“In addition to all the other information we have about Somalia, its problematic that they use this report to justify repatriations,” Eva Singer, Head of Asylum at the Danish Refugee Council, told Politiken. M


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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