UN -- Say No to Returning Refugees to Danger

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Greek Red Cross helping an Afghan refugee who just arrived from Turkey to Lesvos island, Greece, in December 2015. CREATIVE COMMONS

Pressure is building on Afghan and Somali refugees to go home, even if they no longer have homes to return to. It is not surprising that this pressure is coming from governments that have been hosting huge numbers of refugees and want to end what seems to them like a never-ending burden.
What is surprising is that the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is facilitating refugee returns to places that it knows cannot accommodate them and that may put their lives in danger.
Take Somalia. The UN issued a press statement on Feb. 21 saying that because of an intense drought, internal displacement is growing and 150,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since November.
Yet the same press release says, “The drought comes as UNHCR continues its voluntary repatriation programme for Somali refugees” living in Kenya.
Then, there is Afghanistan. On Feb. 18, the UN announced that fighting in the country had forced more than 650,000 people from their homes in 2016, with another 15,000 internally displaced so far in 2017. The same notice says that UNHCR’s “voluntary repatriation” program to help send Afghans living in Pakistan back home “is scheduled to resume on 1 April 2017 following the winter pause.”
In 2016, Pakistan used this program to coerce 621,000 Afghans back to Afghanistan, including 371,000 registered refugees, many of whom lived in Pakistan for decades.

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