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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Amnesty slams Somali repatriation
Somali woman with child (archive picture)
The Home Office says vulnerable individuals will not be sent back
The UK government's decision to return some Somali asylum seekers to the war-stricken country has been condemned by Amnesty International.

It said sending six people back despite ongoing fighting was "breathtakingly reckless".

The organisation condemned the move as an "unannounced policy change", and asked for clarification.

But the Home Office said "vulnerable groups" in need of protection would not be sent back.

So far, the Home Office has repatriated six Somali men since 31 March.

More than 100 civilians have died as a result of a new wave of factional fighting in Somalia over the past few months, and thousands have been displaced.

Amnesty International says the argument that those returned to their country are not risking their lives is unrealistic.

"The nature of the situation in Somalia at the moment is one where not only AI, but also the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is saying they shouldn't be returned there," a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

Lawless country

"We believe that the current lawlessness in Somalia means that there is a situation to which nobody should be forcibly returned, at the moment," she added.

A Home Office spokesman said the failed asylum seekers who are being sent back have first to be found "not at risk of persecution and not in need of humanitarian protection" by both the Home Office and the Independent Appellate Authority.

"The UNHCR is aware we are effecting the enforced return of failed asylum seekers to Somalia and we are in contact with them on issues relating to this returns programme," he told BBC News Online.

"The Home Office will not return vulnerable groups and will only enforce the return of those Somalis it is satisfied are not in need of protection."

Somalia is the country with the highest number of asylum applications to the UK.

More than 4,500 Somalis submitted an asylum application in 2003.

Amnesty International is warning that since January, when the UNHCR published a position paper on the return of failed asylum seekers to Somalia, the situation has further deteriorated.

Since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, warlords have been ruling the country and fighting for control of the territory in the absence of a central government, army and justice system.

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