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Executive Summary for April 6th

We review the latest developments related to refugee issues, including the “voluntary returns” of 60,000 Somali refugees from Kenya, Lebanese police efforts to dismantle trafficking rings that target Syrian refugee women and a temporary suspension of mass returns from Greece to Turkey.

Published on April 6, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Tens of thousands of Somali refugees, mostly from Dadaab camp in Kenya, have been returning to their home communities since December 2015. The Department of Refugee Affairs in Kenya said “10,000 refugees have been assisted to return home while another 50,000 have spontaneously returned without any assistance,” according to reports on April 3.

Kenya assists 420,711 registered refugees from Somalia, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) states.

A majority live in Dadaab refugee camp, currently the largest refugee complex in the world but originally designed to accommodate 160,000 refugees, the European Resettlement Network says.

Other Somali refugees reside at Kakuma camp and some others in urban areas of Kenya.

Under the Tripartite Agreement that UNHCR signed with the Kenyan government, refugees may be repatriated to Somalia provided “conditions of safety and stability” exist in their home communities. The process started in 2013.

According to surveys conducted by U.N. agencies from September 2012 to July 2013, 82 per cent of refugee respondents at Dadaab said that they would like to return to Somalia if peaceful conditions prevailed.

U.N. officials said some of the main complaints by those who had returned were about lack of schooling or adequate shelter, after leaving a camp where basic needs were met,” according to a Reuters report.

The Kenyan government has openly expressed that they want to close down Dadaab and other camps hosting Somali refugees. They have also accused refugees of harboring al-Shabaab militants at Dadaab.

“As a country we are fatigued by the refugees who have not only caused havoc to the environment but have been fueling insecurity in the country,” a government coordinator said to local media.

Meanwhile, UNHCR officials claimed that reintegration of refugees returning to Somalia was hampered by lack of basic infrastructure, according to the same report.

Lebanese Police Rescue 75 Trafficked Syrian Refugee Women

In the latest crackdown on human trafficking rings in Lebanon that have increasingly targeted refugees, especially Syrian women and girls, the Lebanese security forces claimed on April 1 that they have “dismantled” the largest known sex trafficking group in the country.

“This is the largest sex trafficking ring we’ve uncovered since the outbreak of the Syrian war,” a Lebanese security source told AFP.

Local sources claim that the trafficking ring has existed for ten years and was busted when some of the trafficked women escaped and reached Lebanese authorities.

Campaigning group the Syrian Feminist Lobby called on legal experts in Lebanon to follow up this particular case and for “UNHCR to secure and provide better living conditions for the refugees under any legal status.”

In related events, the Lebanese authorities launched a new investigation into the trafficking of minors, following a recent report by a journalist who claimed to have purchased two five-year-old girls, a one-year-old boy and his eight-year-old brother, all from Syria, for the sum of $600 from a woman in Lebanon.

“The woman told me that she could no longer take care of the shivering children but did not want to just leave them on the street,” the reporter wrote in a story published in online magazine Counterpunch.

Like many underage refugees in countries neighboring Syria and others entering Europe, these children were not registered through UNHCR and were therefore invisible in the humanitarian system. This makes them susceptible to trafficking and abuse.

Greece Halts Returns Due to ‘Administrative Chaos’

Following reports that some of the asylum seekers returned to Turkey on April 4 were deported by mistake, Greece has halted mass returns of migrants and asylum seekers until Friday.

The Telegraph reported that due to a substantial number of the “migrants” claiming asylum and the fact that there are few officials to process the applications, the process could take months.

Greek and Turkish authorities said that there were not enough legally “returnable” candidates to be shipped back to Turkey as most applied for asylum right before being sent back.

The returns would restart “when there is a sufficient number” of suitable migrants, said Giorgos Kyritsis, the spokesman for the Greek government panel that has been coordinating the logistics of returns.

A sudden increase in asylum claims has greatly reduced the number of arrivals eligible for deportation, leading to a sudden pause in the E.U.–Turkey plan.

“We have expressed concern that this deal is being implemented before the necessary safeguards are in place in Greece and in Turkey, including that it’s being rushed – and is premature,” U.N. spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told the BBC.

Vincent Cochetel, director of UNHCR’s Europe bureau, told the Guardian that the Greek police “forgot” to process the asylum claims of 13 of the 202 people returned to Turkey on Monday.

Cochetel added that the 13 Afghan and Congolese migrants who were deported to Turkey on Monday did not get a chance to apply for asylum due to administrative failures on the Greek islands.

These claims undermine the E.U.’s argument that the deal is in line with international law.

A coalition of 90 European refugee charities – the European Council on Refugee and Exiles – called for the deportations to be immediately suspended, according the same Guardian report.

Recommended Reads:

Top image: Muslim clerics walk in the dust on the dirt road outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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