Nairobi, Kenya: Thousands of refugees from Somalia in Kenya may soon begin returning home voluntarily after the government signed an agreement with the Somali government for their repatriation, in a process that may take three years to complete.
Deputy President William Ruto and Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia Fawzia Yusuf Adam together with the United Nations body for Refugees signed the agreement Sunday in Nairobi that will establish a roadmap for the return of the refugees that have lived in Kenya for the past two decades.
A commission made up of Kenya, Somalia and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR) will now begin working out the exact details of the return including when the actual movement of refugees will begin and how much money each refugee will be awarded to help them reintegrate in their home country. So far, 80,000 refugees have returned home in the past few months.
“Kenya has been straining financially to secure the camps but criminals including Al Shabaab have continued to take advantage of the refugee camps to destabilise our country. Elements of the refugee population have also provided a conduit for the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. ” he said.
Ruto said that efforts are ongoing to further stabilise Somalia to make it conducive for returning refugees to settle, including strengthening the presence of African Union troops that are fighting against the Al Shabaab rebels.
Kenya presently hosts 610,000 documented refugees. 520,000 of these are Somali living in designated refugee camps and various urban areas around the country. It is estimated that another 500,000 undocumented refugees reside in Kenya as well. The largest refugee camp in Kenya is the Dadaab Refugee Complex.
It was created in 1991 and designed to hold a maximum of 90,000 people. Over the years, however, the raging conflict in Somalia, coupled with frequent droughts and famines have introduced more refugees. The Complex now holds five times its intended population.
Somalia Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Fawzia Adam said that security situation has significantly improved in Somalia to allow for the safe return of refugees. She indicated that even thousands of Somali nationals from other countries in the world are returning home to take advantage of investment opportunities in the country.
She said that the agreement sets the legal framework for the orderly and structured return of refugees to their home country saying similar agreements will be signed with other countries in the region where significant numbers of somali refugees reside including Ethiopia, Yemen and Uganda.
“The Somali government will continue creating conducive conditions for the safe return of refugees to Somalia to enable them quickly resettle and rebuild their lives, including the 1.8 million internal refugees inside Somalia,” she said.
UNHCR Representative in Kenya Raouf Mazou said that the repatriation will be voluntary saying that refugees should not be pushed out. He said that the recent reduction of food ratios to refugees in Dadaab refugee camp due to shortage of funding within the World Food Programme should not been seen as a strategy to force out the refugees.
“More resources are needed to invest in education and health facilities in Somalia where the refugees will return to so that their repatriation will be durable and sustainable. We will lead the way in resource mobilisation to make this exercise a success,” he said.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed said that Kenya has previously repatriated refugees from other countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda with success. She called on the international community to raise the funds to finance the exercise. But she did not indicate how much would be needed.
“We also recognise that Somali refugees have contributed a lot to our economic development, we hope that they will also contribute much more in Somalia when they return,” she said.-standardmedia