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Article – Maqaal

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For decades the US condemned targeted killings, characterizing them as assassinations – but it was unclear what distinguished America’s drone campaign from the killings it historically rejected as unlawful. Obama will not restrict drone strike ‘playbook’ before Trump takes office

The sun had yet to rise when missiles launched by CIA drones struck a clutch of buildings and vehicles in the lower Kurram tribal agency of Pakistan, killing four or five people and injuring another. It was February 22, 2016, and the American drone campaign had entered its second decade. Over the next weeks, officials in Washington and Rome announced that the US militarywould use the Sigonella air base in Sicily to launch strikes against targets in Libya. American strikes in Yemen killed four people driving on a road in the governorate of Shabwah and eight people in two small villages in the governorate of Abyan. A strike in Syria killed an Indian citizen believed to be a recruiter for the self-styled Islamic State, and another strike killed a suspected Islamic State fighter in northern Iraq. A particularly bloody series of drone strikes and airstrikes in Somalia incinerated some 150 suspected militants at what American officials described as a training camp for terrorists. In south-eastern Afghanistan, a series of drone strikes killed 12 men in a pickup truck, two men who attempted to retrieve the bodies, and another three men who approached the area when they became worried about the others.

Over just a short period in early 2016, in other words, the United States deployed remotely piloted aircraft to carry out deadly attacks in six countries across central and south Asia, north Africa, and the Middle East, and it announced that it had expanded its capacity to carry out attacks in a seventh. And yet with the possible exception of the strike in Somalia, which garnered news coverage because of the extraordinary death toll, the drone attacks did not seem to spark controversy or reflection. As the 2016 presidential primaries were getting under way, sporadic and sketchy reports of strikes in remote regions of the world provided a kind of background noise – a drone in a different sense of the word – to which Americans had become inured.

Senior officials in the administration of President Barack Obama variously described drone strikes as “precise,” “closely supervised,” “effective,” “indispensable,” and even the “only game in town” – but what they emphasized most of all is that the drone strikes they authorized were lawful.

In this context, though, “lawful” had a specialized meaning. Except at the highest level of abstraction, the law of the drone campaign had not been enacted by Congress or published in the US Code. No federal agency had issued regulations relating to drone strikes, and no federal court had adjudicated their legality. Obama administrationofficials insisted that drone strikes were lawful, but the “law” they invoked was their own. It was written by executive branch lawyers behind closed doors, withheld from the public and even from Congress, and shielded from judicial review.

The US was carrying out lethal strikes not only on actual battlefields, but in places far removed from them

Secret law is unsettling in any context, but it was especially so in this one. For decades the US government had condemned targeted killings, characterizing them as assassinations or extrajudicial executions. On its face, the drone campaign signified a dramatic departure from that position – a departure that demanded explanation, at the very least. It was far from obvious what distinguished American drone strikes from the targeted killings the United States had historically rejected as unlawful. Nor was it clear how these targeted killings could be reconciled with international human rights law, with a decades-old executive order that bans assassinations, with the constitutional guarantee of due process, or, for that matter, with domestic laws that criminalize murder.


The scale of the drone campaign, and the human cost of it, made government secrecy even more disquieting. The United States was carrying out lethal strikes not only on actual battlefields, but in places far removed from them as well. The first strike President Obama authorized killed at least nine people in the tribal areas of Pakistan. An early strike in Yemen, albeit one carried out with cruise missiles rather than drones, killed two families, including as many as 21 children – and, according to the New York Times, “left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents.” By the end of President Obama’s first term, American strikes had killed several thousand people in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, including many hundreds of civilian bystanders. The deaths of innocents raised sharp moral questions, and the moral questions gave urgency to the legal ones.

Early in 2010, American media organizations began to report that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American, had been added to “kill lists” maintained by the CIA and JSOC – the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command. Awlaki had once been a preacher at a mosque near Falls Church, Virginia. He had condemned the September 11 attacks, encouraged “interfaith dialogue,” and been invited to dine at the Pentagon. In the weeks after the attacks, however, the FBI became suspicious of Awlaki’s earlier contact with several of the hijackers. FBI agents interviewed Awlaki repeatedly and placed him under constant surveillance. In 2002, citing a “climate of fear [and] intimidation,” Awlaki left the United States for the United Kingdom. Two years later he returned to Yemen, where he had spent much of his childhood and where most of his family still lived.


But Awlaki’s past followed him to Yemen. Soon after he arrived there, the United States pressured the Yemeni government to detain him. He was imprisoned without trial. By the time he was freed 18 months later – the FBI having been unable to provide the Yemeni government with evidence to justify his continued imprisonment – his views toward the United States had hardened. In online videos, and in an English-language magazine called Inspire, he became an unforgiving critic of US policies and, in some instances, an apologist for attacks against Americans. In 2009, a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to detonate plastic explosives on a Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit; American intelligence officials came to suspect that he had been equipped by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based group, and that he had been instructed by Awlaki. By early 2010, American intelligence officials were describing Awlaki as the “Bin Laden of the internet” and “the most dangerous man in the world” – and they had marked him for death.

Intelligence officials’ claims about Awlaki were exceptionally grave ones, but the astonishing revelation that the government intended to carry out the deliberate and premeditated targeted killing of one of its own citizens – something the United States had not done since at least the civil war – brought the debate about the government’s drone campaign into American courtrooms. I traveled to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, in the spring of 2010 with Ben Wizner, one of my colleagues at the American Civil Liberties Union, to meet with Nasser al-Awlaki, Anwar’s father. At the offices of a Yemeni human rights organization, Dr Awlaki, an American-trained economist who had gone on to become a minister in Yemen’s government and then the president of Yemen’s largest university, asked us, disbelievingly, whether the US constitution could possibly permit what the government was proposing to do. When Ben and I returned to New York, we worked with Pardiss Kebriaei and Maria LaHood at the Center for Constitutional Rights to develop a challenge to the lawfulness of the government’s kill lists.

It was a bizarre death penalty case in which there was no indictment, the accused was in hiding overseas, and the prosecutors, who had already pronounced the sentence, were apoplectic at the suggestion that there should be anything resembling a trial. In the fall of 2010, John Bates, a federal district court judge, presided over a hearing in which justice department lawyers argued that the constitution permits the government to kill suspected terrorists without judicial process, and we argued in response that if the constitution meant anything at all, it surely meant that the government could not kill its own citizens without ever justifying its actions to a court. In his subsequent ruling, Bates wrote that the case was “unique and extraordinary,” and he conceded that it raised profound questions about “the proper role of the courts in our constitutional structure,” but he nonetheless dismissed the case on procedural and jurisdictional grounds. Nine months later, with the court having declined to intervene, a drone strike in Yemen’s northern al-Jawf governorate killed Awlaki and three others, including Samir Khan, the 25-year-old American who published and edited Inspire.

Less expected – and more shocking – was the US government’s killing, two weeks later, of Anwar’s American-born son, Abdulrahman. A gangly, bookish 16-year-old, Abdulrahman had set out from his grandparents’ home in Sana’a determined to find his father. Not knowing where to look, he traveled by bus to the southern governorate of Shabwah, where his extended family lived. He learned there of the drone strike that had killed his father hundreds of miles to the north. While President Obama was at Fort Myer in Virginia describing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki as “a tribute to our intelligence community,” 16-year-old Abdulrahman was in the remote province of Shabwah struggling to come to terms with his father’s death. One evening he and his cousins stopped by the side of the road at the kind of informal, open-air restaurant that is common in Yemen. A group of men already gathered there were roasting lamb over an open fire. Abdulrahman and his companions set out a blanket on the ground. They would probably have heard the buzz of drones overhead; perhaps they would have seen a flash of light. Hours later, when other family members arrived at the site, they found only a crater, scattered body parts, and the remnants of American missiles.

We filed another suit, this time on behalf of the estates of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Judge Bates had rejected our earlier effort, but we hoped another judge might be more receptive to a case that sought after-the-fact judicial review of the government’s actions – especially because those actions had resulted in the death of a 16-year-old boy. Hina Shamsi, my colleague who argued the case, pressed the court to consider the implications of closing the courthouse door. But this second case was also dismissed, with the government contending again that the lawfulness of drone strikes was for the political branches to decide, and with Judge Rosemary M Collyer ultimately holding that legal remedies that would have been available in other contexts were not available in this one.

They would probably have heard the buzz of drones overhead; perhaps they would have seen a flash of light 

The litigation relating to the strikes that killed the three Americans in Yemen prompted a degree of public reflection about the drone campaign and forced the government to clarify and defend some of its positions. It also compelled courts to confront (if not answer) important legal questions relating to the government’s policies. But the debate generated by the litigation was a narrow one, focusing mainly on the scope of the US government’s authority to kill its own citizens, and even that debate was distorted by secrecy and selective disclosure. Government officials declared that Anwar al-Awlaki had been an “operational terrorist,” but they declined to disclose the evidence that supported this charge. They withheld memos in which the justice department concluded that the government could kill terrorism suspects without justifying its actions to a court. They intimated that the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman had been inadvertent, but they declined to supply an on-the-record account of the strike that resulted in his death, and they withheld the results of their post-strike investigations. They controlled most of the information and disclosed only what they chose to.

This book is possible because the secrecy surrounding American drone strikes has begun, at the margins, to erode. The documents collected here shed light on how a president committed to ending the abuses associated with the Bush administration’s “war on terror” came to dramatically expand one of the practices most identified with that war, and they supply a partial view of the legal and policy framework that underlies that practice. But while many of the documents collected here were meant to be defenses of the drone campaign, ultimately they complicate, at the very least, the government’s oft-repeated argument that the campaign is lawful. To be sure, even the existence of these documents is an indication of the extent to which the drone campaign is saturated with the language of law. Perhaps no administration before this one has tried so assiduously to justify its resort to the weapons of war. But the rules that purportedly limit the government’s actions are imprecise and elastic; they are cherry picked from different legal regimes; the government regards some of them to be discretionary rather than binding; and even the rules the government concedes to be binding cannot, in the government’s view, be enforced in any court. If this is law, it is law without limits – law without constraint.


There is something ironic, and even sad, in the fact that the expansion and normalization of the drone campaign was overseen by President Obama, a onetime professor of constitutional law who was elected after promising to end the lawless national security policies of the administration that preceded his. Perhaps it is also true, though, that only President Obama could have overseen it. When President George W Bush left office, he was unpopular and distrusted. The evidence he had cited to justify the invasion of Iraq had been exposed as a fiction. His administration’s torture policies were widely viewed as an embarrassment and an outrage. The supreme court had repeatedly rejected his policies relating to military detention and prosecution. It is doubtful that the courts or the public would have allowed him to expand the drone campaign.

But many Americans who were appalled when Bush ordered extrajudicial detention were untroubled when Obama ordered extrajudicial killing. If they appreciated the breadth of the power Obama had claimed, they assumed he would use the power wisely. Equally significant, some of the scholars and human rights lawyers who might otherwise have been expected to harshly criticize Obama’s targeted-killing policies were part of Obama’s administration and deeply involved in developing the policies.

Several months before the 2012 presidential election, when it appeared that Americans might not give President Obama a second term, administration officials began to worry privately that the powers they had claimed for themselves might soon be in the hands of another president. They began to consider ways of narrowing the powers they had asserted. By this point, though, the administration had already persuaded a federal judge that the courts had no role to play in determining whether (or when) an American citizen could be targeted by his own government. The administration was already on its way toward persuading another judge that the government should not have to present evidence even after a targeted killing had been carried out. The powers claimed by the Obama administration had become entrenched – so entrenched that they could not readily be surrendered. This was even more true in early 2016, when Obama administration officials turned once again to the question of what legacy they would leave to their successors.

Now the lethal bureaucracy whose growth Obama personally oversaw will be turned over to a new administration. The powers Obama claimed will be wielded by another president. Perhaps as significant is the jarring fact that the practice of targeted killing – assassination, as it would once have been called, without a second thought – no longer seems remarkable, and the fact that the United States now boasts a legal and bureaucratic infrastructure to sustain this practice. Eight years ago the targeted-killing campaign required a legal and bureaucratic infrastructure, but now that infrastructure will demand a targeted-killing campaign. The question the next president will ask is not whether the powers Obama claimed should be exploited, but where, and against whom.

  • Copyright © 2016 by Jameel Jaffer. This excerpt originally appeared in The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law, published by The New Press in the United States . Reprinted here with permission.
  • theguardian




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The Burma-Shave-style signs lining the street next to Steve Sorensen’s white clapboard house don’t mince words. “Take your Muslim Somalian diaspora and put it where the sun doesn’t shine!!!” the cheery red-and-white messages proclaim.

Sorensen, a retired former federal VA worker who’s lived in St. Cloud for 35 years, posted the signs two days after the election. He says he would have no matter which presidential candidate won. But as a supporter of Donald Trump, Sorensen says he’s hopeful things will be different now.

“It’s just that some of the political correctness that we have had to endure, some of it’s going to go away,” he said. Sorensen is especially hopeful the new president will change the country’s policies on immigration, including adopting a temporary ban on all refugees.

“If you can’t be vetted, if you’re coming with the wrong idea of what the United States is, you’re going to have to meet different standards,” Sorensen said. “I think our immigration policy has gotten way out of hand.” Attitudes such as Sorensen’s are what members of St. Cloud’s Somali American community say they fear with the election of Trump to the White House.

 The victory of a presidential candidate who called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and blamed Somali refugees for bringing terrorism to Minnesota left many Somalis shocked and worried about the future. They are less concerned about actual policies that a Trump administration might impose. Instead, they are worried that those with anti-Muslim or anti-Somali feelings will feel emboldened to act upon hate and distrust.

“Many people are scared, to be honest with you,” said Abdul Kulane, executive director of the Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization. “We are afraid of his message that has gone to the community and to our neighbors and to people who we work with.”

Somalis in St. Cloud felt targeted in this election, especially when Trump spoke at a rally at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport two days before the election. He said Minnesota had “suffered enough” for taking in thousands of Somali refugees and specifically mentioned the mall stabbings at Crossroads Center in St. Cloud.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric caused many Somali citizens to come out to vote in large numbers, many for the first time, said Kulane, who writes a voluntary monthly opinion column for the Times. “There was overwhelming emotion attached to this election,” he said.

Haji Yussuf, co-founder of #UniteCloud, which works to reduce cultural tension in St. Cloud, said he’s had many calls and conversations with Somali residents who are shocked and worried about the election results. “They’re looking at their neighbors and their friends twice. They’re not sure what happened,” Yussuf said. “People are not sure what to do. They don’t know what’s next.”

As a U.S. citizen, Yussuf said he’s not concerned about his rights. But there’s concern among some Somalis that if the Trump administration dramatically tightens policies on refugees and immigration, it will be much more difficult for their family members still overseas to join them. Some Somalis are postponing overseas travel, worried they might not be allowed to return to the U.S. if they leave, Yussuf said.

But aside from those practical concerns, there’s also a feeling among Somalis that many more of their neighbors resented their presence than they previously thought. Faisal Ali works at a group home in St. Cloud, where he helps the elderly and people with disabilities with daily tasks. Ali was a Somali refugee in Kenya and came to the United States with his mother six years ago when he was 14. This is the only country where he has a sense of identity.

Ali said he’s been anxious since the election, knowing the majority of people who live in his home district voted for Trump.
“All the things that he has been saying about people of my religion and my community, I felt like that would automatically disqualify someone running for the highest office in the land,” he said. “It looks like a lot of people in this country agree with that, and that’s scary a little bit.”

Ali noted there have been some issues in St. Cloud with the Somali community, including tension in the high schools and the Crossroads attacks. The mall attacker was a Somali refugee who investigators say apparently was inspired by radical Islamic groups.

But Ali said Trump “put a lot of us in one bowl,” lumping all Somalis together and creating a climate of fear. Being a Muslim and being labeled a terrorist, “it doesn’t feel like being included in the fabric of this country and community,” he said.

Some immigrants are taking heart from Trump’s acceptance speech after the election, in which he called for unifying the country. The election was the topic of discussion among students this week in their English language classes at Hands Across the World. The nonprofit helps refugees and immigrants new to St. Cloud learn English, get established and learn marketable skills.

Founder and executive director Brianda Cediel said the news of Trump’s win was well accepted by students from Somalia, Burkina Faso, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.

“The hope for them is that President (elect) Trump is going to stick to his words when he mentioned that he’s going to work with Democrats and Republicans,” Cediel said. “They said they really want him to do that. They just keep living here with a hope that everyone is going to be respected.”
Despite Trump’s comments about deporting illegal immigrants and limiting the number of refugees the U.S. accepts, there wasn’t much fear among the students, Cediel said.

“They hope that he’s going to restore peace here and the healing that he said, and accept everyone and keep contributing to the good for the country,” she said. The reaction surprised her, Cediel said, but it gives her hope. Yussuf said Trump’s win has made him realize there is a need for more understanding that one of #UniteCloud’s aims is to create conversation, but apparently it wasn’t enough, Yussuf said.

“There (were) a lot of people that had feelings about their new neighbors, about people moving into this area, especially in Central Minnesota, and they just didn’t know how to express themselves,” he said. They were afraid if they said something, they’d be labeled a racist or a bigot, Yussuf said. Instead, that anger came out at the ballot box.

Still, there are many reasons why people voted for Trump, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are anti-immigrant or racist. For some, it was the economy, a lack of opportunities or other reasons, Yussuf said.

“If we want to be neighbors, if we want to get along and make this place prosper, we have to sit down and listen to both sides,” he said. “We cannot just assume that people are angry because they don’t want others here. There’s a reason. They’re suspicious, they’re fearful. And that has been used by politicians in this election to get out the vote.”

 Yussuf hopes maybe Trump’s win can be a turning point when people can talk less, listen more and get to know their neighborhood. “Maybe this is a breakthrough that we all wanted,” he said. “Maybe this was meant to happen for the better, for our community. Maybe now we can listen to each other.”




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By Nimo-ilhan Ali

In an extract from her new book, researcher Nimo-ihan Ali looks at how unrealistic images of life in Europe shared on social media are prompting young Somalis to migrate.

TAHRIIB IS AN Arabic word that has gained prominence and popularity in the Somali language. In current parlance, young Somalis are said to be “going on tahriib” when they embark on the hazardous journey to Europe via the Sahara and the Mediterranean.

Tahriib has gradually become part of Somali youth culture, a practice shared by youth across different social strata. Young people often use the word “we” to describe why young people undertake tahriib, as one respondent explains: “If we just sit here and wait, nothing happens. We have to go. We have to go try our luck in life. We can’t wait forever.”

Tahriib is a way out – an exit strategy. As a youth movement it puts pressure on young people to join their peers and friends on tahriib. Incidences of large groups leaving together are not uncommon.

In July 2015, a group of young men from a Hargeysa football team left together. Similarly, in 2009, a group of male Borama secondary school classmates left together.Peer pressure is frequently cited as an important driver of tahriib. A mother notes that her son had left because “all his friends were leaving together so he had to follow them.”

 Another says her son “was a good child who did not use to think about tahriib but his friends convinced him to leave.”

In some instances young people are pressured to follow their friends because they do not want to undertake tahriib alone. Having friends on the journey can provide support. They can also inform families back home if an individual does not make it.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp facilitate peer pressure. The availability of broadband Internet in households, university campuses and the ubiquitous Internet cafes in major towns means that digital communication is relatively accessible across the Somali regions – for those who can pay.

There are improved connectivity speeds, especially in Somaliland, where fiber optic broadband is now available. Smartphones mean that young people are continuously connected with their peers outside the country. As young people often note in conversation, topping up Internet on their smartphone is one of their biggest expenditures.

Discussions with young people in Hargeysa reveal that exchanges on social media sites constantly expose them to the lives of their peers who have gone on tahriib and reached Europe. Although it is widely known that the beautiful images posted on social media sites by those who have reached Europe do not show the reality of their lives, the images nonetheless provide powerful incentives for young people to leave.

Their significance increases if those posting pictures have only been gone for a short while, with people at home still able to remember these individuals’ lives before going on tahriib.

Those who have made it to Europe use these digital avenues to persuade their friends back home to leave. Those still at home are forced to defend their decisions. In this context, an unwillingness to leave because of fear of the risks associated with tahriib is considered cowardly. This type of pressure is particularly pertinent for young men as it directly touches on important socio-cultural stereotypes of Somali masculinity.

Although many families in Somaliland and Puntland would categorically stop their sons and daughters from risking their lives by attempting such a journey, there are many subtle cues (especially directed at young men) within society that contradict this. To some extent, these cues also sanction such endeavors as courageous acts. A mother whose son left when he was 16 years old reveals this dilemma. Although very emotional and voicing disapproval about her son’s departure, at the same she shows a great deal of admiration.

“He was only sixteen years old and now he is wasting his life in jail…. I wish he were here with us going to school. Now he has nothing. No family and no education…. He was a strong-headed boy and very brave. He saw his father doing nothing and decided he would fight for his life and help his family. He was very brave. He even left his older brother here. He decided to make something for himself.”

Peer pressure, real or imagined, can influence young Somalis to undertake tahriib. The question is whether they are also aware of the difficult conditions in Europe, especially in entry countries such as Italy and Malta, and whether they know that the likelihood of success – obtaining legal residency, employment and so on – is, at best, uncertain.

Discussions with young men in Somaliland reveal that although a level of awareness about these realities exists, they remain hugely optimistic. They perceive these difficulties to be temporary because they are aware that all Somalis eventually tend to be accepted as refugees. Current developments in Europe, however, challenge this assumption.

In May 2016, for example, Finland declared Somalia to be a safe country, revoking Somali eligibility to apply for asylum on the grounds of humanitarian protection under the U.N.’s 1951 Refugee Convention.

This is an edited extract from “Going on Tahriib: The causes and consequences of Somali youth migration to Europe.”


Going back to Somalia


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Amina is among thousands of returnees from Dadaab refugee camp who are trying to pick up their lives in Somalia after leaving the refugee camp.

After spending 14 years living as a refugee in Hagadera, the decision to return to Somalia together with her seven children was a difficult one. Although she left out of her own will, life was becoming increasingly uncertain and challenging.

“My son was arrested twice during night patrols by the police, they suspected him of being a member of Al-Shabaab”, says Amina.

Saved enough money to go

She saved some money from her son’s work at the ice factory and sold half her monthly food ration to generate enough money to travel back to Somalia. Upon return to Somalia, she settled in Balad-Hawa, where there was a high militia presence and she did not feel safe. She moved further north to Qansahley settlement for internally displaced people in Dollow.

In 2002, Amina fled Somalia together with her nine children to escape clan conflict. They crossed the border into Kenya and arrived in Dadaab refugee camp. After her husband died, Amina has raised her children and supported her family all by herself. She lost two of her children while in Dadaab.


“Dadaab was a good place, we had free food and water. When I first came to Dollow, I struggled to find support and establish a network. Now, my living conditions in Dollow are better because I feel safer and I am able to look for work opportunities. I am a traditional birth attendant, and I am helping pregnant women giving birth. Our biggest challenge is clean water. The river water is muddy. We would request humanitarian organisations to help us get clean water,” says Amina.

Supporting returning Somalis

Supported by the UK Department for International Development (DfID), NRC is helping returnees to integrate locally. A Housing, Land and property (HLP) cross-border programme has been established providing information and cross-border referrals to enable returnees reclaim their assets upon return. Together with other returnees in Dollow, Amina is a participant in NRC’s cash-for-work initiative which is using drip irrigation methods to grow crops within communal farms in Qansahley.

The voluntary returns programme has assisted 30,134 Somali refugees from Dadaab refugee camp. Between May and September 2016, The Protection and Return Monitoring Network (PRMN) has documented an average of 12,054 people crossing the Kenya-Somalia border into Somalia. The most common reasons for cross-border movement has been search of better social relations, economic opportunity and permanently resettling in Somalia. However, as already highlighted by humanitarian agencies, internal displacement coupled with increasing number of returns from Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen and limited humanitarian funding will result in a situation where people resort to desperate measures in order to survive.

“I am not going back”

Fortunately, Amina has made up her mind. She has resolved to rebuild her life in Dollow by making use of the available resources and support that she can get. When she is not helping women welcoming the little bundles of joy, she works in the farms with her son Dahir, whose wife and two children are still in Kenya waiting for an opportunity to travel to Somalia with support from the UNHCR-led Voluntary Repatriation Programme (VolReP).

“I am not going back. Neither am I going cross into Ethiopia to register as a refugee again. I want to tell the people in Dadaab that they should come back and freely enjoy the feeling of safety and doing what they want to do in life”, says Amina.

Dadaab’s Broken Promise

A report released 10 October by NRC criticizes the returns process from Dadaab camp in Kenya to Somalia, as no longer being voluntary, safe or dignified.

The report, titled Dadaab’s Broken Promise, says that the decision by the Government of Kenya in May to close the Dadaab refugee camps in November has led to a situation where the voluntary returns process does not meet international standards, and breaks the agreement that Somalis would be assisted to return home safely and voluntarily.



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The Kenyan government’s threat to close the Dadaab refugee camp by the end of November would not only endanger the lives of several hundred thousand Somali refugees but has already caused irreparable harm and damage.

With no alternative options, some refugees have been coerced into repatriating to Somalia, where insecurity and an ongoing humanitarian crisis continue. The United Nations Refugee Agency’s focus on expediting the pace of returns – through a program that is supported by donors and implemented in partnership with non-governmental organizations – in the face of political pressure from Kenya, promotes large-scale returns that are unlikely to be sustainable. Development and reintegration initiatives in designated areas of return in Somalia need time to take hold; and, in the meantime, support for Somali refugees who remain in Kenya cannot be abandoned.

Kenya faces very real and very serious security challenges. But it is harmful and wrong to blame the Somali refugee population – people who themselves fled to Kenya seeking refuge from violence, persecution, and turmoil at home.

The priority of donors and UN agencies should be on improving conditions in Somalia, not succumbing to political pressure from Kenya to speed up the pace of returns through monetary inducements.


The Kenyan government must lift its deadline of November 30, 2016, for closing the Dadaab refugee camp, cease coercive efforts to promote premature returns to Somalia, and assure refugees that they will not be forcibly repatriated;

Beyond improving the quality of information provided at Return Help Desks in Dadaab, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) must expand its information campaign – with participation from Somalia-based sectoral partners – to share details about service availability, livelihoods opportunities, and security conditions in Somali areas of return through local radio messaging, social media, and direct engagement with and outreach to refugees;

UNHCR must increase and extend post-return monitoring activities through regular phone communication with returnees to gather detailed information about the conditions and needs of returnees and inform coordinated planning for reintegration programs;

As outlined in the Somali National Development Plan, international donors and the UN should support the Somali government’s strategic goal to enhance the absorption capacity of basic services for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee returnees through improved coordination mechanisms between humanitarian and development actors;

International donors, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, should increase protection funding for the Dadaab refugee camp and in areas of return inside Somalia;

Donors must increase humanitarian assistance for Somalia to close a $500 million gap in funding the UN’s 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan and address urgent needs, particularly relating to food insecurity;

UNHCR’s Cross Border Working Group must devise clear and transparent terms of reference and expand its membership to include all relevant actors. Additionally, the leadership of UNHCR Kenya and UNHCR Somalia should make regular cross-border visits to each other’s field locations to inform programming and to improve coordination between the two country teams. RI Senior Advocate Mark Yarnell and RI President Michel Gabaudan traveled to Kenya and Somalia in September 2016.



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