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Interview with Amina Mohamed: Matteo Renzi, a reliable European ally for Kenya and Africa 0

New York – In this interview given to Afronline.org, the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya, Amina Mohamed, expresses her views on the migration challenges affecting Africa and the responsibilities of Europe, giving the thumbs up to the EU external investment plan for Africa and Neighbourhood Countries launched in September by the European Commission. She is sure she can count on a key ally, the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi.

She is one of the most influential foreign ministers on the African continent, the first woman to hold the office in Kenyan history, and is well informed when it comes to migration. Of Somali-Kenyan origin, Amina Mohamed has put her long and rich international career (including spells at the World Bank and UNEP) to good use, leaving a significant mark on Kenyan diplomacy. In this interview given to Afronline.org, the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya expresses her views on the migration challenges affecting Africa and the responsibilities of Europe, giving the thumbs up to the EU external investment plan for Africa and Neighbourhood Countries launched in September by the European Commission.

She is sure she can count on a key ally, Matteo Renzi, “who we can thank for pushing Africa and migration to the heart of the European foreign policy agenda”. We met Amina Mohamed at the United Nations headquarters, the day after the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

For months, Matteo Renzi has been asking the EU to overhaul its migration strategy to make investment in Africa a key priority in European foreign policy. What do you think?

I would like to thank him for everything he has said to support us. The work he has carried out and continues to carry out in pushing Africa and migration at the heart of European foreign policy is greatly appreciated. Bilateral relations between Kenya and Italy are excellent, especially between our President and Prime Minister Renzi. Your government has stood by us during some of our darkest hours. I am thinking of the speech on young people and terrorism that Mr Renzi gave last year to students at the University of Nairobi, and the official visit from the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Paolo Gentiloni, immediately after the terrorist attack on the Garissa University College. We will not forget these visits.

Following the pressure of Italy, in September the European Commission announced a new European external investment plan for Africa and EU Neighbourhood Countries to tackle migration flows. Is this good news?

It is a very good plan, especially since it will enable African small and medium-sized enterprises to consolidate and export their products in accordance with international quality standards. Investment is the answer not so much for refugees fleeing wars and persecution, but more for migrants who leave their countries because of poverty and a lack of opportunities. Work and dignity are the two key factors which represent the root causes of migration flows. The plan provides an answer to this challenge, at least on paper. In addition, it will make economic partnership agreements with the EU much more sustainable, allowing us to export our products to European markets.

What is your view of the EU’s migration policies with regard to Africa?

If European countries comply with the international legislation they have endorsed, then there is no problem. However, if they do not, then the numbers of refugees and migrants in Europe are their problem and certainly not ours.

Minister Mohamed, in September you announced the repatriation of 150,000 Somali refugees to their homeland by the end of the year, 100,000 of whom will return voluntarily. Under what conditions are these repatriations being carried out?

This was not a unilateral decision made by Kenya. The voluntary repatriation procedures form part of a tripartite agreement signed three years ago between our country, Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). So when I read that Kenya is illegally expelling Somali refugees, this sends out the wrong message and is something we cannot accept. The Kenyan government is merely respecting the commitments signed up to in the tripartite agreement. These repatriations are nothing new – some have already taken place in the past, so I do not understand why this is causing so much controversy. It is worth remembering that, after the war in the former Yugoslavia, many refugees, scattered across the Balkans and the rest of Europe, were involved in voluntary repatriation programmes very similar to that signed with Somalia and the UNHCR. These programmes involved the countries of origin of the refugees, the receiving countries and the UNHCR. I know this because I was in Europe at the time. In Africa, and especially Kenya, we have adopted this type of programme in the past, signing tripartite agreements to help refugees return home with the support of the UNHCR. And all of this is voluntary. So far, we have registered 100,000 refugees who have expressed a desire to return to Somalia. And, just as in the past, we will help them as best we can.

This operation will receive backing of around €100 million from the European Union. How will these funds be used?

The funds will be chiefly allocated to the UNHCR, and then to the Kenyan authorities, to help them facilitate the repatriations, and to Somalia, tasked with ensuring the best possible reception of the returnees.

What guarantees have been provided by the Somali government for receiving refugees who fled the civil war?

Everything is set out in the tripartite agreement, which provides for short-term humanitarian assistance for returnees, while the medium- to long-term phase is covered by the Somalia Compact, a programme aimed at addressing security, rule of law and the socio-economic needs of returnee families and their receiving communities..

Can you confirm the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp by the end of the year?

Yes, I can. It will be closed with the support of the UNHCR and the international community, including the European Union and the United States.

The Kakuma camp currently houses 158,000, mainly South Sudanese, refugees. Will it also be closed?

Our government intends to fulfil the commitments undertaken with the international community to receive refugees in need of protection on arrival in Kenya. So the Kakuma camp will not be closed.

So the European Union is supporting the Kenyan authorities in their goal of closing Dadaab for reasons of security linked, according to the government, to the threat of terrorism which the camp represents for your country?

I wouldn’t describe it in those terms. The international community is helping us to implement the tripartite agreement on repatriations, which involves the UNHCR, respecting the repatriation conditions recognised at international level, namely that repatriations should be voluntary and respectful of refugees’ rights. Dadaab will be closed for a number of reasons, not merely on the grounds of security. The camp was built many years ago in 1992, and the refugees’ living conditions have become intolerable. It is time to give some dignity back to Somalian refugees, who have been living in squalor for too long now, right before our eyes and those of the international community. Had these conditions been better, today’s interview would have been very different.

But many of them were born and raised in the camp, so actually in Kenya. How can we consider reintegrating them into Somalia, a country they do not even know?

I agree with you. But look, there is a principle to respect here, namely sharing the load. For many years, Kenya has integrated a huge number of refugees. We now want the international community to do the same. We want others to start to receive and integrate the same number of refugees as us; only then will they be able to suggest what or what not to do. We would like European countries to come to us and say: “We have taken in 300,000 refugees just like you; let’s talk about some ways to re-house the others.”

By Joshua Massarenti (Afronline.org)

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