Kenyan archbishop urges compassion towards Somali refugees

By staff writers
6 Jan 2007

Kenyan Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi has urged his government to reconsider a decision earlier this week to close its borders to refugees from neighbouring strife-torn Somalia - writes Fredrick Nzwili for Ecumenical News International.

"At times of emergency, it is important to be humanitarian," Archbishop Nzimbi told ENI after the 3 January 2006 announcement by the government that it was closing its border with Somalia and deporting refugees who had crossed to Kenya.

"We should not allow them to remain where they will be killed," said Nzimbi, while also warning against Kenya becoming a "breeding ground" for fighters from Somalia.

Ethiopian troops in support of Somalia's transitional government have in recent days driven back the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) which had controlled much of the southern part of the country including the capital, Mogadishu.

The BBC reported that the Kenyan foreign minister, Raphael Tuju, said his government had been unable to ascertain whether Somalis crossing into Kenya were genuine refugees or fighters seeking to regroup. The Somali transitional government had previously appealed to Kenya to close its border to prevent UIC combatants from crossing over.

The Kenyan government action has been criticised by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR. The agency's representative in Kenya, Eddie Gedalof, described the decision as inhuman, illegal and against international law.

"You can imagine women and children who had trekked for hundreds of kilometres being loaded into trucks to be transported back into fear and uncertainty," Gedalof was quoted by The Standard newspaper as saying.

But speaking during a 3 January media conference, foreign minister Tuju said, "There is no evidence that anybody who is not a combatant is in danger."

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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