Thousands of Vulnerable Children at Risk as Closure of World’s Largest Refugee Camp Looms

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (October 21, 2016) — More than 165,000 vulnerable children risk violence, forced recruitment and separation from their families, as thousands leave Dadaab refugee camp ahead of its planned closure, Save the Children warns.

While the camp’s population currently stands at nearly 277,000 – 60 percent of whom are children – tens of thousands of parents and children have already returned to Somalia in the last year following news that the camp would close in November.

Save the Children is hearing of an increasing number of children confronted with violence upon returning to war-torn Somalia.

Mohamed, 14, and Aden, 13, were intercepted by an armed group on their way back to Somalia. Their father, who tried to stop their abduction, was killed in the process and their mother narrowly escaped death and fled to Ethiopia.

"After our father’s murder, we were taken to a military training camp in Baardheere. We were beaten and denied food if we failed to follow instructions," said Aden.

The brothers escaped and were arrested by military forces but later released without charge, and made their way back to Dadaab alone.

"I will never go back to Somalia again," adds Aden. "I am sure the militia must be looking for us and this time they will not take us to the training camp but they will kill us."

Without their parents, the brothers are currently struggling to access essential services like food and shelter as they wait for their ration cards to be reactivated.

Another child, Abdullahi, 6, witnessed his neighbour being killed by a missile shortly after returning to Somalia. "There was a huge blast. I stepped out of our house and saw body parts scattered all over,’’ says Abdullahi.

While the family has since returned to Dadaab, Abdullahi’s mother says he has been having nightmares, and regularly screams at night.

Many children in Dadaab are also being forced to abandon school, depriving them of an opportunity to learn.

Ahmed, 18, told Save the Children that a return to Somalia means he will be forced to fight in the war one way or another. "I know there are only two alternatives: either I join the government forces or an extremist group. There is no education in Somalia. We don’t know whether we will do exams or get our certificates because of the repatriation. Most of us have lost hope."

Refugees returning to Somalia are facing an uncertain future in a country still grappling with conflict, where essential services needed to support their return are poor or non-existent.

"The residents of Dadaab have been living in fear and confusion since the announced closure of the camp forced families to accelerate plans to move back to Somalia," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. "I’ve visited Dadaab multiple times over the years, and have seen first-hand that this refugee camp has not only become home for these hundreds of thousands of people, but for many of the children and young adults, it’s the only home they’ve ever known."

"Imagine being told you suddenly have no home. It has created a sense of panic and forced families to make perilous journeys, only to return to a conflict zone. These decisions, made under huge duress, are putting their and their children’s lives at risk. These children have little or no say in how this affects them and their future," continued Miles.

"They are saying goodbye to their community, livelihoods, and their home only to face violence, homelessness and uncertainty about their futures."

To ensure the protection and safety and all refugee children in Dadaab, Save the Children is calling for:

• The Governments of Kenya and Somalia and UNHCR to re-negotiate and extend the Tripartite Agreement – which was signed in November 2013 between the Governments of Kenya and Somalia and UNHCR to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya to Somalia — so that all returns are safe, dignified and voluntary;

• The Government of Kenya to clearly communicate to all refugees that Dadaab will remain open past November. The government should also allow all students registered in the camp to take their national examinations in November 2016, and work with the Government of Somalia and education systems in both countries to find solutions to enable students in grades 6 and 7 who return to Somalia to take their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams in the future;

• Donors and the international community to prioritize funding for the voluntary repatriation process, for ongoing support for those living in Dadaab, and to ensure acceptable levels of service for refugees once they return to Somalia. They must also ensure there are enough funds for child protection, education services and viable livelihood opportunities, so that children’s well-being is guaranteed;

• UNHCR to publicly confirm and reassure refugees that the full, enhanced financial voluntary repatriation package will remain available in 2017. They must also ensure all refugees are informed about educational opportunities available to them in the areas they are returning to, and that the necessary funds are in place to support children who are at risk of separation, or have been separated from their families;

• The UN and non-governmental agencies working in Dadaab and Somalia to ensure the entire repatriation process is done in the best interests of the child – including guarantees that appropriate services and support systems will be in place once they return to Somalia – so that children are protected throughout the repatriation process. They must also ensure that children have continued access to quality basic education and are protected, both in Dadaab and in areas of return in Somalia.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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