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World Refugee Day Eastern Africa: Somali refugees struggle in the shadow of forced return

Nairobi, 27 June 2016 – Angela Wells, JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer, writes for Refugees Deeply on the devastating consequences of the Kenyan government's newest restrictions on refugees.

Said Abdullah's daily life in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has become a testament to the struggle to survive for Somali refugees in an increasingly hostile country.

The 42-year-old clothes seller turned rights activist divides his time in the Somali-dominated neighborhood of Eastleigh between detention centers, courtrooms and community meetings. He is available to help those caught up in police roundups get out of jail; to advise new arrivals on how to register with authorities; and to join Somali community leaders in petitioning the Kenyan government for more workable legislation to govern the lives of around 600,000 Somali refugees in the East African country.

The already uphill battle took a turn for the worse in May 2016 when the government abruptly announced plans to close all refugee camps within its borders and decommission its Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), effectively leaving unregistered arrivals in limbo.

The government's stance, although softened slightly by a partial reopening of the DRA, has been accompanied by a welter of alarming and often contradictory statements over the repatriation of refugees to Somalia. The specter of forced returns now haunts the refugees.

"Just thinking about the idea of going back to Somalia gives us nightmares," said Said. "My children were born here and they're proud of that. We want our right as refugees to live in Kenya or to go to a third country legally.

"Just give us that chance," he pleads.

Read more on Refugees Deeply here