Somali civilians in Southern and Central Somalia are increasingly caught between the hammer of the Al Shabaab terrorist movement and the anvil of a weak, incompetent and corrupt federal government.
I want to begin my remarks by thanking the organizers for inviting me to take part in this very important event. I was able to speak earlier with Iman and Siham and I informed them that I have been following events at Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp in the world, for a long time. I will not talk about the humanitarian issues related to Dadaab because they have already been touched upon by the documentary that we just saw. My role tonight is to add to the discussion by speaking about the topic of human rights for the people in and around Dadaab. In addition to the goal of providing humanitarian aid to Somali refugees, the aim of this initiative is to contribute to their self sufficiency by setting up educational and other opportunities for the 300,000 people there. Highlighting the human rights abuses that Somalis face and taking steps to end them will play a crucial role in the healing and restoration of the dignity of these vulnerable people.
Contrary to Kenyan and international law, Kenya closed its border to Somali refugees in 2007 and also shut down the crucial refugee processing centre in the border town of Liboi. This centre was used as a first stop for the refugees before they were provided with safe passage to Dadaab which is much further inland. The border remains closed to this day. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as numerous human rights organizations have constantly sought to overturn this decision while at the same time respecting Kenya’s genuine security concerns. They have called on the Kenyan government to differentiate between dangerous criminals and terrorists, and refugees in need of protection. The closure of the border and the processing centre has given a free hand to some corrupt Kenyan police and border paramilitary forces to engage in serious human rights violations against Somali refugees. First, Kenyan border paramilitary forces routinely ignore the principle of non-refoulement which forbids the expulsion of a refugee into an area where the person might be again subjected to persecution or where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. Secondly, credible human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, have documented some of these border forces and police officers near the dadaab camp engaging in:
- Random shooting of groups of refugees crossing the border,
- Extortion of refugees that are caught making their way to the camp and the illegal detention of those who refuse to pay bribes,
- Rape and sexual assault of female refugees.
It is important to note here that these abuses are not officially condoned by the authorities and that Kenya has hosted hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees since the beginning of the civil war in Somalia. Nevertheless, these abuses are of great concern to Canadian Somalis who have family members and relatives among the large refugee population in North Eastern Kenya. As we move forward to address this matter, we must also unequivocally condemn the Al Shabaab terrorist organization because the brutality of its fighters is the root cause of the Somali civilians fleeing to Kenya. Somali civilians in Southern and Central Somalia are increasingly caught between the hammer of the Al Shabaab terrorist movement and the anvil of a weak, incompetent and corrupt federal government. We will loose credibility if we take on the Kenyans for their abuse of Somalis while ignoring the nihilistic death cult that is the Al Shabaab.
What is the segment of Canadian Somalis that are best placed to highlight the human rights abuses that Somali refugees face and take steps to end them? The obvious answer to this question is the Canadian Somali youth. You possess the knowledge, commitment and sincerity that is necessary to tackle these and similar issues. The problem is that you defer to our elders on virtually every issue. There is nothing wrong with respecting the experience of the elders but they also have to appreciate that you can function better in the diaspora. As such, the youth have to step up and play their rightful role in the progression of the Canadian Somali community as well as contributing to peace and prosperity in Somalia. I would strongly urge you to make sure that your activities are in accordance with Canadian values as you assist Somalia. An example of this is the great Canadian practice of protecting minority rights. You will not be taken seriously or make any headway if you complain about human rights violations of your relatives when at the same time you appear to condone or fail to speak about the suppression of minority clans inside Somalia.
In addition to the provision of humanitarian supplies, what concrete activities can Canadian Somali youth engage in to assist Somali refugees? First, they can work with the credible human rights organizations that I mentioned earlier in order to keep this issue alive. Second, due to the fact that the countries bordering Somalia have taken in a huge number of refugees, they can also request the Canadian government to help relieve this pressure by taking in their share of Somali refugees. But this can only occur if the community starts to see themselves as Canadian citizens of Somali heritage who have a stake in the future of this country. We also need to proactively engage our elected officials, welcome them into our communities and neighbourhoods, and highlight the issues of concern to them.
I want to end my speech by recognizing the debt that we collectively owe to the Canadian Somali women who constantly exhibit resilience and a quiet dignity as they overcome overwhelming odds. That is why we consider them the undisputed backbone of our people in Canada.
Thank you very much.