04/15/2009, 00.00
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Attracted by promises of a better life in Naples, Somali refugees find themselves in Nepal

by Kalpit Parajuli
For the past three years, 72 “urban refugees” from Somalia are stuck in Kathmandu, victims of international human traffickers, who lied to them about work in Italy. The Somalis cannot leave Nepal however because the local government wants them to pay 40,000 euros for overstaying in the country. Now the refugees are threatening a hunger strike and say they are “ready to die.”
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – All he wanted to do was flee war, desperation and hunger and find refuge in Naples (Italy) to rebuild his life. For this reason a Somali refugee paid international traffickers to take him to Italy but upon landing he discovered that instead of Naples he was in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.

The main character in this misadventure is Shukrui Dec, a 25-year-old man who along with 72 other Somali refugees left his country of origin in quest of peace, two meals a day for his family and a better education for his kids. He paid a hefty sum to an international agent who promised him a home and a job in Naples. But on landing at Tribhuwan International Airport in Kathmandu, he realised he had been swindled.

For days Shukrui Dec roamed the streets of the city before surrendering to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Nepali capital, asking for hospitality for himself, his wife and 8-year-old son.

“We had no option but to surrender to UNHCR,” Dec said.

At present he has a place to stay and financial aid from the UNHCR. But for the past three years he has been an “urban refugee” waiting for repatriation.

If he is not home yet that is because of an obligation to pay about € 40,000 (US$ 55,000) in total to the government as overstay fee. According to Nepali Immigration Department rules, any foreign national in Nepal has to pay US$ 6 per day of overstay.

The refugees have asked the government to wave the fee and let them go. But for Home Ministry Spokesperson Nabin Kumar Ghimire, “there is no question of exempting them.”

With the UNHCR’s living expenses for Somali refugees ranging from 19 to 42 euros (US$ 25 to 54) per person, none of the “illegal immigrants” can raise 40,000 euros. And yet they still must pay.

Out of desperation Somali refugees are threatening to go on a hunger strike.

Through AsiaNews they are calling on the international community to help them.

“We can leave Nepal only if the government exempts us from the overstay fee,” says Fatima Muhammad, a 17-years-old Somali woman.

“Refugees are desperate to go home. We will die a dog’s death here, better to die in our own country,” Fatima added.

“We will fast on to death if the government ignores our demands”, added a Somali woman who had her seven malnourished children with her.

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