The UN refugee agency said Tuesday the planned voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees living in Dadaab refugee camp will go ahead.
Head of Operations at the UNHCR sub-office in Dadaab, Ahmed Warsame stressed that repatriation will be “voluntary” with those who chose to remain behind continuing to receive assistance from the agency and other humanitarian agencies based at the camp.
“The laws regards refugees are very clear and like anybody else their rights must be protected,” Warsameh said in Garissa when handing over vehicles to the Garissa County.
“Only refugees who are willing to go back home voluntarily are the ones who will be taken back. Nobody will be forced to go back home,” the UNHCR official added.
In late November, Secretary of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government Joseph Ole Lenku ordered the closure of all refugee camps in the country, increasing the pressure on Somali refugees to depart for their home country.
“All the camps should be closed and the debate on whether or not it is appropriate has been passed by time,” Lenku said during a tour of Dadaab refugee complex, where he met with local leaders and officials from the UNHCR.
Somali refugees in Kenya are estimated at 500,000 and the number has increased due to turmoil and recurrent droughts in the Horn of African nation which has been torn asunder by factional fighting since 1991 but has recently made progress towards stability.
The conflict has left some 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 1 million more living in exile in neighboring countries, mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.
But with parts of Somalia showing signs of increasing stability, countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the potential to encourage them to return, while some Somalis have spontaneously decided to move back to areas under government control.
The Tripartite Agreement which was signed by Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR in November last year establishes a legal framework and other support for Somali refugees in Kenya who might eventually wish to return to their homeland.