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Cablegate: Djibouti: Mishandled Somali Refugee Return Strains

VZCZCXRO8300
RR RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDJ #0100 0381036
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071035Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY DJIBOUTI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1350
INFO SOMALIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0004

UNCLAS DJIBOUTI 000100

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
STATE FOR AF/E AND PRM/AFR
ADDIS ABABA FOR REFCOORD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF DJ SO UNHCR PREL SMIG
SUBJECT: DJIBOUTI: MISHANDLED SOMALI REFUGEE RETURN STRAINS
GODJ-UNHCR RELATIONS

REF: 11/10/09 SWAN-MCKELVEY EMAILS; 09 DJIBOUTI 593

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In mid-November, 43 Somalis rescued in
international waters by a Dutch military ship and off-loaded in
Djibouti were repatriated by the Government of Djibouti (GODJ) to
Mogadishu (Ref A). UNHCR claimed that this constituted refoulement.
The GODJ maintained that UNHCR was aware of the planned return to
Mogadishu, and in fact agreed to pay for it. Exchange of public
recriminations followed. This botched return stands in contrast to
the smooth screening and repatriation of 52 Somali migrants picked up
by U.S. naval vessel "Lake Champlain" in May (Ref B) following
detailed consultations among the U.S. Embassy, UNHCR, and the GODJ.
Unfortunately, the recent negative experience with the 43 migrants
off-loaded by the Dutch may jeopardize future GODJ willingness to
accept transit of Somalis picked up on the high-seas. End summary.

2. (U) On October 22, a Dutch ship rescued 43 Somalis in the Red Sea
and received permission to disembark them in Djibouti on Nov. 4.
According to UNHCR/Djibouti, ONARS (Djibouti's refugee coordination
body) and UNHCR conducted interviews with the 43 individuals at the
reception center at Loyada Nov. 7-8 and found that three were willing
to return to Mogadishu. The remaining 40, according to UNHCR, wanted
asylum in Djibouti. On November 10-44 all of the Somalis, including
6 women and 7 children, were repatriated to Mogadishu. UNHCR
subsequently circulated a diplomatic note to all permanent missions
to UNHCR in Geneva in protest of the perceived forced repatriation.

3. (SBU) On November 15, Djibouti's Deputy Secretary General for
Refugee Affairs told ConOff and visiting Refugee Coordinator from
Nairobi, that GODJ and UNHCR had both agreed to the repatriation and
that UNHCR had agreed to fund the travel to Mogadishu. The Ministry
of Foreign Affairs later issued a press release stating that UNHCR
welcomed and housed those rescued at sea before organizing their
return travel and that GODJ's only role was to see that everything
ran smoothly.

4. (SBU) UNHCR/Djibouti Head of Delegation, Ann Encontre -- who was
absent during the repatriation but left her capable deputy, Periklis
Kotsaris, in charge -- confirmed there had been poor coordination
between UNHCR/Djibouti, the GODJ, and the Dutch (who do not have an
Embassy in Djibouti, and are represented by the French ). She said
much of the discussion over plans to off-load the migrants occurred
directly between The Hague and UNHCR/Geneva, with inadequate
attention to Djiboutian views. Djibouti is 60 percent ethnic Somali
and already hosts a refugee camp of approximately 10,000 (mostly
Somalis) as well as many unregistered Somali migrants living in urban
areas. While a generous host to many refugees, Djibouti has a
population of less than 1 million and is fearful of opening the
floodgates to more refugees.

5. On Dec 23, UNHCR/Djibouti Rep. Encontre told ConOff that ONARS
leadership claimed on Nov. 24 that during processing at the Loyada
Refugee Reception Center, workers overheard the migrants say that
three men travelling with them were armed with "Kalashnikovs"
(Russian high-powered rifles) that they threw overboard when the
Dutch ship approached, indicating that the migrants may in fact have
been trafficking victims. When local authorities demanded that the
migrants identify their traffickers for prosecution or face
deportation, none of the 43 migrants divulged the names. The order
later came from the Djiboutian Presidency to send them all back, no
exceptions. [Note: Encontre commented that she was skeptical of the
claim by ONARS that the Somalis were returned because they refused to
reveal the identity of "traffickers." ONARS made no such assertion at
the time of repatriation. END NOTE]

6. (SBU) COMMENT: While this incident is now some two months old and
has been reported by email, post is transmitting this front-channel
message for the record. UNHCR and GODJ had hoped to replicate events
from the smooth May repatriation of Somalis rescued by the US Navy,
facilitated by a clearly defined agreement and careful planning among
UNHCR, the GODJ and the USG. The miscommunication and poor
coordination in the Dutch case led to the return of migrants to
Mogadishu despite their assertion of claims to refugee status in
Djibouti. Being painted as the sole culprit in this fiasco has
justifiably upset the GODJ. In the future should any other migrants
be rescued in international waters, the GODJ may not be as willing to
grant them entry. END COMMENT
SWAN

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