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Op-Ed

Rejected Somali Asylum Seekers in Britain Sent to Mogadishu

By Dalmar Yuusuf, Leicester, England, August 21, 2008

In the current antimigration political atmosphere of Westminster it is political suicide to be perceived to be soft on refugees.

Between April and December 2007, the Home Office removed 1,999 individuals from Britain and sent them back to their original countries, including Somalia. Some of the Somali nationals were sent to Mogadishu, the most dangerous city in the world according to international relief workers and human rights organizations.

In the 1990's successive British governments introduced a series of measures aimed at reducing asylum seekers coming to the country, and since 1999 the rate of refusal of Somali asylum applications has been on the rise.

Tony Blair's government managed to reduce the number of asylum applicants but at the same time encountered a new problem. The government did not know what to do with the failed Somali asylum seekers as Somalia was considered an unsafe place for rejected asylum applicants to be sent. In 2003, the government proposed regional processing centers, which meant relocating failed asylum seekers to a third country in the regions close to their country of origin in order to keep refugees closer to home so that when the situation improved in their country of origin, they would be returned immediately. Tanzania was considered as a safe place, but it turned down that proposal. John Chiligati, Tanzania's deputy minister for home affairs, said, "We reject this proposal because we don't see the reason or the logic for refugees to be sent to Tanzania before they are returned to their own country."

Once that mission had failed, South Africa was considered a suitable country to take failed asylum seekers from Britain. The Guardian reported, "Home Office officials are believed to have been making a 'Cook's tour of the world' in their attempt to get new agreements to take Britain's rejected migrants."

When the government failed to secure an alternative country for failed Somali asylum seekers, it chose to send them back to their original country. The Home Office explains how it deals with rejected Somalis: "Her Majesty's Government have had a Returns Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the authorities in Somaliland based in Hargeisa, since 2003. The MOU forms the basis for the return to Somaliland of those whom the Somaliland authorities in Hargeisa consider to have a right to reside in Somaliland, and who do not qualify to remain in the UK.… Removal to Southern Somalia (Mogadishu) is secured without the need for an MOU.… There is currently no embargo on enforced removals to Mogadishu."

Between April and December 2007, Mogadishu fell into an unparalleled crisis. On April 27, 2007, Representative Donald Payne (Democrat of New Jersey) saw it as: "Mogadishu is another Darfur in the making. It is sad to see that no one seems to care about the untold suffering of the helpless in Somalia."

In May 2007, John Holmes, the United Nations' top humanitarian official, put Mogadishu ahead of Darfur: "Mogadishu is worse than Darfur."

In September 2007, Leslie Lefkow, a coauthor of the Human Rights Watch report on Somalia, said at a meeting at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C.: "I think what we have seen in Mogadishu over the last six to eight months, there is really little comparison when you look around the world in terms of the gravity of the crimes and the scale of displacement."

Despite the above details, a Somali policy bulletin issued by the Home Office on May 23, 2007, stated: "With the end of the fighting—and there continuing to be no evidence of continuing fatalities/injuries in any significant numbers—there is no longer any real risk that a returnee to Mogadishu would be caught in the cross-fire or killed or seriously injured by indiscriminate bombing or other military action. Although there have been reports of a number of small explosions in the city since the fighting stopped, these appear to be isolated and targeted incidents and do not demonstrate that there is a real risk."

In terms of the humanitarian situation in Mogadishu, the document reckoned: "Although the humanitarian situation in the city is poor, there is not such an absence of the basic necessities of life that to return someone to those conditions would lead to an immediate threat to their life or exposes them to conditions which result in a total loss of human dignity. Many people who fled Mogadishu during the fighting are now returning; food, water and shelter are available; schools re-opened on 5 May and medical treatment is being provided."

However, a monthly humanitarian analysis made by the United Nations in June 2007 maintained: "Despite measures by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to improve security in Mogadishu, the situation continued to deteriorate. Violence persisted with increased random bomb attacks and grenades explosions harming many innocent civilians, Ethiopian /TFG troops as well as Ugandan peace keepers. Assassinations and failed attempted murders of government officials or those deemed to side with the TFG were also reported. House-to-house weapon searches continued limiting the movement of people due to day imposed curfews in targeted districts. This greatly hampered livelihood activities for residents."

Regarding the risk of traveling to and from Mogadishu airport, the Home Office policy made the following assessment: "The continuing numbers flying to Mogadishu, the absence of reports indicating particular problems with travel from the airport, the presence of [African Union] troops at the airport and the city and the general reduction in conflict in and around Mogadishu suggests, on balance, that it is possible to travel safely from the airport."

Ironically, on March 9, 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported, "A cargo plane transporting Ugandan soldiers to Somalia's capital caught fire as it landed at Mogadishu's airport.… 'Three rockets were fired at the plane and one hit the plane,' Somali government spokesman Hussein Mohamed Muhamoud told the [Agence France-Presse] news agency."

Again, on 23 March 23, 2007, the BBC told its audiences, "A cargo plane carrying 11 people has been shot down after taking off from the main airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu." And throughout the year, Mogadishu airport came under attack on numerous occasions.

In the current antimigration political atmosphere of Westminster it is political suicide to be perceived to be soft on refugees. Tragically, sending failed asylum seekers to Mogadishu preempts any accusation of softness.

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