By Rose Welimo
Over 13,600 Somali refugees have voluntarily returned to Somalia from Kenya’s Daadab camp since May 2016 when the government announced its closure while 439 have been resettled in third countries.
In a communiqué issued after a meeting held in Nairobi to discuss the on-going repatriation of Somali refugees between officials of the Government of Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR it was noted that negative publicity due to misinformation regarding the voluntary repatriation is counter-productive to the efforts of both governments in hosting and receiving the refugees.
Somali representatives at the meeting said that the country is willing to receive her people and it appreciates the role played by Kenya in hosting the Somalia refugees for 25 years.
During the meeting, it emerged that there is need to explore possibilities of having additional exits and entry points to facilitate the repatriation process. In this regard, Mandera and Belet-hawa were proposed for consideration.
The meeting further assessed the efforts of the National Multi-Agency Refugee Repatriation Team (NMARRT), the Somalia Technical Committee (STC), UNHCR (Kenya and Somalia) in the exercise.
The UNHCR was called upon to effectively co-ordinate the efforts within Somalia in the provision of re-integration and development assistance for returning refugees to avert any humanitarian crisis.
It welcomed the creation of the Somalia Technical Committee that would be responsible for overseeing the effective reintegration of the Somalia returnees.
Participants at the meeting also reiterated the need to engage the donor community in assessing the pledges made with the aim of ensuring the smooth reintegration of the returnees; particularly with regards to the basic services, such as housing, education, health and livelihood programmes.
The next meeting will be held in Kismayo after the UN High Level Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and the Leaders Summit on Refugees in New York and the UNHCR in Geneva.
In May this year, Kenyan government announced its decision to close down Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps citing heavy economic, security and environmental concerns. It set aside Kshs 1 Billion to support and fast track the repatriation of refugees from the camp.
The Principal Secretary for Interior affairs said the country continues to shoulder a heavy burden as a result of hosting over 600,000 refugees for almost a quarter of the century.
Since Kenya’s armed forces invaded Somalia in 2011 in pursuit of the terrorist organisation al-Shabaab, the country has endured more than 100 terror attacks.
Al-Shabaab’s deadliest attack was last year when the militants stormed Garissa University and massacred 148 students.