War, Famine, and Al Shabab—Is this really a good time to send Somalians home?

Rebecca Wasif – On December 7, 2017, the United States sent an ICE-chartered plane filled with ninety-two deportees to Somali, but the flight only made it as far as Senegal before logistical issues rerouted the plane back to the United States where it generated widespread media attention.[1] While in Senegal, the plane sat for forty-eight hours on an airport runway while those inside grew anxious and afraid.[2] Although the forty-eight hours spent on the runway of a foreign country may not have been the most pleasant for those on board, many passengers, several of whom have lived in the United States for the majority of their lives, are thankful that the flight eventually got “home” and are now fighting to reopen their immigration cases.

In 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dramatically increased deportation of Somali citizens, from 198 in 2016 to 521.[3] U.S. deportation of Somalis has increased despite overwhelming evidence that these individuals will return to great danger, as the radical islamic terrorist group, Al Shabab, has gained significant power and control over territory in the country.[4] To make matters worse, many of individuals being sent back have little or no memory of their native country and many do not even speak the language.

Additionally, humanitarian organizations estimated that more than half of Somalia’s population needed humanitarian aid as of last November, food insecurity and armed conflict causing internal displacement of about 2.1 million people.[5] It is no time for refugees to return to Somalia, Amnesty International has said.[6] A continuing drought and the specter of famine, which was barely held at bay in 2017 and remains a serious danger in 2018, poses a threat to the lives and health of the people of Somalia. [7]

But, perhaps as frightening as the fear of starvation is the justified fear of violent death or political persecution in an environment of warring factions that the government has been consistently unable to control.[8]  A horrific suicide bombing by Al-Shabab last October, intended to strike the international airport and nearby embassies in Mogadishu, reduced a chunk of the city surrounding the Zoobe intersection, near the Safari Hotel, to rubble.[9] The explosion killed more than 350 people and injured hundreds of others.[10] Among the dead were at least two Somali-Americans. [11]

With Al-Shabab expanding its control and ISIS also working to expand its influence beyond its current presence in Somalia’s Puntland region, there is no end in sight to the violent conflict that has beset the nation for decades. The situation will likely worsen throughout 2018, according to ACAPS, a nonprofit that monitors and analyzes global humanitarian situations around the world.[12]

While the United States’ may be very polarized when it comes to immigration issues, one thing is clear: we must not send anyone back to a country where there is a substantial likelihood that they will be tortured by the government.[13] As a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture,[14] we must not forget out obligations under International law when deciding how to address the deportations of individuals to a war-torn country where radical Islamic terrorist groups are increasingly taking over territory and gaining political power.

[1] Jennifer Hansler and Sophie Tatum, Somalis mistreated during US deportation effort, lawsuit alleges

(Feb.7, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/20/politics/somali-lawsuit-ice-deport-immigrant-abuse/index.html

[2] Id.

[3] Abdi Latif Dahir,“America is home”: How Trump’s immigration policies are upending Somali lives in the US (Feb.7, 2018), https://qz.com/1179796/trump-immigration-somalis-in-us-face-increasing-deportation/.

[4] Alex De Waal, Can Somalia Ever Win Against al-Shabab? (Feb.7, 2018), http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/19/can-somalia-ever-win-against-al-shabab-terrorism/.

[5] No Time to Go Home: Unsustainable return of refugees to Somalia, Amnesty Int’l. (Feb. 7, 2018), https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/operations/somalia/document/somalia-humanitarian-needs-overview-2018.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Abdi Latif Dahir, How Somalia’s deadliest attack ever tore open the heart of a nation (Feb. 7, 2017), https://qz.com/1106275/somalia-is-reeling-from-the-truck-bombing-that-killed-and-injured-hundreds-of-people/.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12]Morgan Winsor, War, hunger, extremism will intensify in 2018: Report (Feb. 7, 2018), http://abcnews.go.com/International/war-hunger-extremism-intensify-2018-report/story?id=51484605.

[13] § 208.17 Deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture.

[14] Id.

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