Governments sign agreement to repatriate Somali refugees residing in Kenya

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed (left) and Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam during signing of the tripatriate agreement on repatriation of somali refugees. (Photo:DPPS)

By Ally Jamah

Nairobi, Kenya: Thousands of refugees from Somalia may soon begin returning home voluntarily in a process expected to take three years.

This follows signing of an agreement between the Kenya and Somalia governments for their repatriation.

Deputy President William Ruto and Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia Fawzia Yusuf Adam together with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Raouf Mazou signed the agreement yesterday in Nairobi that establishes a roadmap for the return of the refugees.

A commission made up of Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR will now begin working out the details of the return, including when the actual movement of refugees will begin and the amount of money each refugee will need.

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 abetted the proliferation of small arms and light weapons,” Ruto said.

 610,000 refugees

He said that efforts are ongoing to further stabilise Somalia including strengthening the presence of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) troops.

Kenya presently hosts 610,000 documented refugees. 520,000 of these are Somalis living in designated refugee camps and various urban areas around the country.

It is estimated that another 500,000 undocumented refugees reside in Kenya. The largest refugee camp in Kenya is the Dadaab Refugee Complex, which 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 seen more refugees troop to the  camp. The Complex now holds five times its intended population.

Somalia Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Fawzia Adam said security situation in Somalia has improved significantly to allow for the safe return of refugees.

She indicated thousands of Somali nationals from other countries are returning home to take advantage of investment opportunities in the country.

She said the agreement sets the legal framework for the orderly return of refugees, saying similar pacts with other countries in the region where significant numbers of Somali refugees reside will be signed soon.

Conducive conditions

“The Somalia 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.

Mazou said the repatriation will be voluntary, adding that refugees should not be pushed out.

He said the recent reduction of food ratios to refugees in Dadaab refugee camp due to shortage of funding 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 Kenya has previously repatriated refugees from other countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda with success.

She called on the international community to fund the exercise.  “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.