UK: Concern at government forcing asylum-seekers back to Somali war zone

In a little-publicised policy change, the government has been forcibly returning male Somalis to Mogadishu since 31 March 2004, with six people known to have been sent there by early June.

In the last two months there has been severe factional fighting in Mogadishu, leaving over 100 civilians killed and thousands displaced. Armed factions have committed killings and rape and have looted with impunity.

In January 2004 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees had warned against any returns to the area south of the town of Galkayo - an area that includes Mogadishu. Meanwhile the security situation in this region has, if anything, further deteriorated.

Amnesty International is further concerned that the UK has not negotiated with any authority in southern Somalia regarding these returns.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Returning people to war-torn Mogadishu – against the advice of the UNHCR and despite clear evidence that the city remains totally unsafe – is breathtakingly reckless.

“In Mogadishu there is no functioning state, no rule of law, and fighting between armed factions claims more civilian lives every week.

“The government’s obsession with being ‘tough’ on asylum must not lead to people being returned to the firing line.”

The UK government’s Somali returns policy was revealed as a new report on refugees and conflict was released to mark Refugee Week 2004 (14-20 June).

The report shows how conflict causes people to flee their homes to seek sanctuary in other countries, including the UK. The report also highlights the impact these conflicts have on asylum claims to the UK.

According to available Home Office statistics, up to three-quarters (around 74%) of asylum applications are made by people from countries where conflicts are occurring, as defined by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (1).

Background

Somalia has been a disintegrated, collapsed state since 1991. There is no effective or national government, justice system or police force. The Transitional National Government holds authority in only a small part of Mogadishu, a city torn apart by clan-based warlords.

Somalia is the only country in the world where the Red Cross has no international delegation because of security concerns after the kidnapping of their delegates, and local humanitarian NGO staff are also at risk

Notes to Editors

(1) Figure based on Home Office statistics for 2003, and “Conflict countries” on current armed conflicts identified by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

The IISS definition of armed conflict includes: international armed border and territorial conflict involving governments in armed conflict over sovereignty territory; internal armed conflicts taking place between government forces and organised groups, which control sufficient territory to sustain concerted military operations; and ‘terrorist’ attacks involving one or more factions in significant armed opposition to a state. The intensity of violence in such attacks varies. Violence directly attributable to organised crime is not included.

(2) Refugee Week is a partnership project involving the UK’s leading charities that work with refugees. These include Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, International Rescue Committee UK, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Save the Children's rights, Scottish Refugee Council, Student Action for Refugees (STAR), UNHCR and Welsh Refugee Council. For more information visit www.refugeeweek.org.uk

(3) Refugee Week features a programme of events around the country from concerts, exhibitions, football tournaments and film screenings to talks and seminars, helping to demonstrate the positive contribution made by refugees to the United Kingdom.

Download the report (pdf format)and find out more about this issue... /b>

More about Amnesty International UK's Refugee Week activities... /b>

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