Dispatches from the Field: Discussions in Nairobi on AMISOM and Refugee Situation
Council members continued their visiting mission today in Nairobi. They first had a meeting with the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, at the presidential palace, followed by a discussion with senior government officials. Both meetings focused largely on issues related to AMISOM and the refugee situation in Kenya, in light of the Kenyan government’s announcement earlier this month that it would close the Dadaab refugee camps. The day ended with a session at the UN headquarter in Nairobi with UN entities, where the humanitarian response in Somalia as well as the refugee situation in Kenya were discussed
Meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta
On Somalia, Kenyatta said there was reason for cautious optimism on the basis of progress made over the last couple of years, but stressed that continued progress was directly linked to the holding of credible elections. Everything must therefore be done to make sure this happened, and that the elections were seen as legitimate at both federal and state levels.
Turning to the security situation, Kenyatta emphasised the importance of establishing a proper Somali army that was also acceptable to the regional states. He said it was a major problem that nobody was able to move in after AMISOM had liberated an area. AMISOM had to both fight Al-Shabaab and help with stabilisation, and was executing a mandate far larger than its resources allowed. As one of AMISOM’s major troop contributing countries, Kenya was questioning whether it was worth the huge cost. Kenyatta asserted that AMISOM was not getting the support it needed in terms of resources and equipment, and argued that the UN needed to take on a much greater role in this regard. Referring to the recent cuts in EU support, he said it was not Kenya’s role to close the funding gap and the logical conclusion would be for Kenya to pull out its troops. Kenyatta asked the Council to seriously consider AMISOM’s role and whether the mission had the resources to stabilise Somalia. Kenyatta also raised the issue of accusations against Kenyan troops being involved in trafficking of charcoal and other goods in Somalia, saying that if people did not appreciate what they were doing, there was no reason for them to stay.
With regard to the refugee situation, Kenyatta reiterated Kenya’s commitment to fulfill its international obligations, claiming that it had done more than any country in the world in this regard. Kenya was beginning to feel, however, that its efforts were taken for granted by the international community, and that international support was not commensurate with the burden, which now also included security threats. The refugee camps had become breeding grounds for terrorists and a hiding place for weapons. Kenyatta noted that Kenya had signed a tripartite agreement three years ago with Somalia and UNHCR on the voluntary repatriation of refugees, but asserted that funding had been less than promised and there had been no progress. Kenya had therefore been forced to take its own measures. He confirmed, however, that Kenya was still willing to host refugees and would not be closing down all the camps. Furthermore, he said that a parliamentary delegation was going to visit regional administrations in Somalia to see if they would be ready to receive returning refugees, while stressing that Kenya did not want to put refugees in a situation where they might be harmed.
Council members were unanimous in expressing their appreciation for Kenya’s efforts both with regard to Somalia and the hosting of refugees, and agreed that the burden had to be shared by the international community. Some Council members expressed concern, however, about the closing of refugee camps and urged that Kenya reconsider this decision. It was noted that forcibly returning refugees to Somalia might lead to further radicalisation and increased insecurity. Responding to Kenyatta’s comments about the accusations against Kenyan troops in Somalia, some members said they understood the feeling of injustice, but urged Kenya to engage with the UN, investigate the accusations and not let the behavior of a few stain the collective efforts of its troops.
Meeting with Senior Kenyan Officials
Following the discussion with President Kenyatta, Council members had a separate meeting with cabinet members and other senior Kenyan officials, including from the ministry of foreign affairs and the state department of the interior as well as the chief of Kenya’s Defence Forces. This meeting focused on AMISOM and the refugee situation.
With regard to AMISOM, the chief of the Defence Forces reiterated the points Council members had already heard in other meetings with regard to key challenges. The mission’s resources were inadequate and there was a lack of force enablers and multipliers, as well as reconnaissance assets, with Kenya utilising its own air assets without compensation. He also noted that the logistical set up was inadequate and that troop contributing countries were providing large amounts of ammunition without compensation. In addition, there was a need to strengthen the Somali National Army as part of AMISOM’s exit strategy. He recommended that the logistical procedures of the UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS) be reviewed, and that the Council include large caliber ammunition in the UN reimbursement list when renewing the AMISOM authorisation. He urged that the UN should authorise additional funding from assessed contributions to close the funding gap left by the EU cuts. Finally, he said that AMISOM’s troop numbers should be substantially increased. A foreign ministry official suggested that AMISOM’s mandate had reached a plateau, and that it might be time to revise it to make it clear that the mandate was to destroy Al-Shabaab, not just to degrade it.
Turning to the refugee issue, Kenyan officials reiterated the president’s assertion that there had been no progress in the implementation of the tripartite agreement with regard to repatriation and that this was the main motivation behind Kenya’s decision. The camp facilities were seriously overstretched and Kenya was spending huge amounts of money on protection. It was emphasised, however, that Kenya wanted to make sure that the repatriation was done as humanely as possible and had put aside funding for this purpose. Kenya was talking to the regional government of Jubbaland, which had allocated an area where refugees could be resettled. A task force had completed a road map for closing the camps. It was stressed that the main issue was not funding, but the presence of terrorist groups in the camps and how to deal with this threat. There were sections in the Dadaab camp where humanitarians could not enter, and the fundamental issue was therefore how to protect humanitarian space from being appropriated by terrorists. The officials said although it was difficult to criticise humanitarian principles, this issue must be addressed.
In their remarks, Council members highlighted Kenya’s critical role as a troop contributor to AMISOM, while noting that this was important not only for Somalia but also for Kenya’s own security. They provided assurances that the challenges that had been raised by Kenyan officials today, and during the visit to Mogadishu the previous day, would be taken into consideration in the Council’s upcoming renewal of the AMISOM authorisation, including issues of command, control and l, coordination between troop-coordinating countries, and the mission’s ability to respond quickly and flexibly to attacks from Al Shabaab. They also made clear that the message regarding UNSOS and the importance of intensifying efforts to strengthen the Somali National Army, including through better coordination among donors, had been heard. With regard to the closing of the refugee camps, Kenya was urged to reconsider its decision and work with the international community to address the issues it had raised during the meeting.
Meeting with UN Entities
In his introduction, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia and humanitarian coordinator, Peter de Clercq, reminded Council members of Somalia’s significant humanitarian needs, while also noting that long-term development solutions are closely linked with security and political processes. He stressed that there was a need to address protection challenges and ensure compliance with international humanitarian law by all warring parties. In this context, he specifically asked the Security Council to help ensure humanitarian access, address protection issues, in particular relating to children, encourage operationalisation of the Civilian Casualty Tracking, Analysis and Response Cell established by AMISOM, and encourage states to increase their humanitarian funding for Somalia. Members of Somalia’s country team said access was the most significant issue for them. They noted that the problem was not only lack of access to areas controlled by Al-Shabaab, but also increasingly bureaucratic impediments imposed by the regional administrations.
UNICEF said that children were particularly affected by the difficult humanitarian situation. With regard to the recruitment and use of child soldiers by Al Shabaab, recent trends were worrying, with recruitment at levels not seen before. UNICEF was also looking into allegations that children were being used as spies.
Turning to the refugee situation in response to questions from Council members, de Clercq said a massive return of refugees to Somalia would be utterly unsustainable, with returnees ending up in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which would be against UNHCR’s policy of not repatriating refugees to camps in their own country. UNHCR asserted that although there was a sense in Kenya that the presence of Somali refugees had led to greater insecurity, links between refugee camps hosting Somali refugees and recent terror attacks in Kenya had not been clearly established. Still, it was a challenge to maintain the humanitarian character of the camps.
According to UNHCR there had been some progress with regard to implementation of the tripartite agreement. Last year, 5,000 refugees had returned spontaneously, while this year 7,000 had already returned, showing a positive trend. Kenya’s feeling that there was not enough support from the international community was probably linked to a recent Kenyan request for 500 million dollars in refugee-related funding which had been met with an international response of only some 100 million dollars. Growing Kenyan frustration finally led to the announcement about the closure of the camps. There had been a lot of interventions both from the UN and individual countries following the announcement, all recognising Kenya’s burden, but emphasising that the conditions for a massive return did not yet exist. It was noted that the international community needed to take its responsibility for providing support for refugees wanting to return more seriously.
Press Briefing and Assessment
At the end of the day, Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Abouletta (Egypt) and Ambassador Matthew Rycroft (UK) gave a briefing to the press where they reiterated that Council members had been very clear in their discussion with Somali leaders that the electoral model should be adopted and elections held according to the agreed timetable. Rycroft noted that they had received positive commitments from the Somali president, prime minister and regional leaders that this would happen. Referring to the discussions Council members had had about the refugee camps in Kenya, Rycroft said they recognised Kenya’s efforts and the need for the international community to share the burden. The message from Council members was that they understood Kenya’s concerns, but that closing the refugee camps was not the best option.
It seems Council members feel that they had good discussions both yesterday and today, and that the mission so far has been very useful, both in terms of getting a better understanding of the issues that need to be addressed in the upcoming resolution on the extension of the AMISOM authorisation, as well as regarding the status of the electoral process. Despite the assurances from the Somali president that elections will take place in August, however, there seems to be considerable doubt among Council members that this will happen. With regard to the refugee situation, it seems it was helpful for Council members to hear the differences in perspective between Kenyan and UN officials, in particular with regard to the links between the camps and recent terrorist attacks, and the implementation of the tripartite agreement.