The United Nations refugee agency has voiced regret at Djibouti’s forced repatriation of 40 Somali asylum-seekers, including 13 women and children, who were rescued by a Dutch ship in the Red Sea last month.
“Based on both UNHCR’s evaluation of the situation in south Somalia as well as the interviews conducted with these individuals, it is clear that the 40 persons were in need of international protection,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement, in which it also thanked Djibouti for accepting its request to allow the group, numbering 43 in all, to disembark.
“Djibouti has long enjoyed the reputation as a generous and welcoming host country for refugees and others in need of protection. This reputation risks being tarnished by the measures.”
The group, mostly from Somalia’s strife-torn capital Mogadishu, landed in Djibouti on 4 November. They were then given medical and security screening by a joint team of officials from UNHCR and the National Refugee Agency of Djibouti (ONARS), followed by registration and protection interviews to asses their eventual protection needs.
“It soon became clear that three males in the group expressed the wish to voluntarily return to Mogadishu,” UNHCR said. “However, according to the evidence collected by ONARS and UNHCR, 40 persons did not wish to return to Mogadishu due to the ongoing conflict there. This group included six women and seven children.”
The whole group, including the 40 who wished to seek asylum in Djibouti, were repatriated on Monday and Tuesday.
“For years, Djibouti has welcomed and offered protection and relief to thousands of refugees,” the agency said. “UNHCR recognizes the legitimate right of a host country in terms of national security. However, UNHCR is concerned by the forced repatriation to Mogadishu of the aforementioned group and the absence of appropriate guarantees for their safety.”