Volume 33
Issue 3
Spring '19

Removals to Somalia in Light of the Convention against Torture: Recent Evidence from Somali Bantu Deportees

Written By: Daniel J. Van Lehman and Estelle M. McKee

Abstract

Somali Bantu refugees deported against their will from the United States are shackled in chains during their removal to Somalia. Ancestors of the Somali Bantu deportees were similarly chained on their journey to Somalia as victims of the Sultan of Zanzibar’s East African slave trade nearly 200 years ago.

In 2003, the first of 12,000 minority Somali Bantu refugees who were long-resident in Kenyan refugee camps were legally resettled in the United States under its Refugee Admissions Program Process Priority 2 as a group of “special humanitarian concern.”1 Since 2016, dozens of Somali Bantu men have been removed from the United States to Somalia, where they rarely have relatives outside of regions controlled by the U.S. Department of State-designated terrorist group Al Shabaab.2 Of those deportees interviewed, most were either born in Kenya or arrived there as infants so Somalia’s dominant culture and language are foreign to them.The U.S. Department of State’s 2017 country report describes Somalia’s minorities as, “…disproportionately subjected to killings, torture, rape, [and] kidnapping for ransom” carried out “with impunity by faction militias and Majority clan members, often with the acquiescence of federal and local authorities.”4 U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUM. RTS. AND LAB., SOMALIA 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT 36 (2018), https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277289.pdf. Survey results from the Somali Bantu deportees reveal that most were kidnapped and tortured for ransom by uniformed Somali police or armed groups that the Somali Government was unwilling or unable to control. Some were kidnapped and tortured for ransom upon arrival at the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) by Somali government security personnelwhile others were taken within weeks of arriving in Somalia. American government analysis and survey results from Somali Bantu deportees provides evi-dence that permitting their removal to Somalia violates Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

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1. Heidi H. Boas, The New Face of America’s Refugees: African Refugee Resettlement to the United States, 21 GEO. IMMIGR. L. J. 431, 446 (Spring 2007).

2. U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF COUNTERTERRORISM, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm . (last visited Nov. 6, 2018).

3. Of the 18 deportees interviewed, only 27.3 percent of the youngest 12, who are 28 years old or younger, speak the dominant Somali Maxaa language.

4. U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUM. RTS. AND LAB., SOMALIA 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT 36 (2018), https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277289.pdf.

5. The term, “Somali government security personnel,” includes Somali police, military, airport customs officers and the regional Jubbaland State police in Kismayu.