|Somali refugees at Daadab camp in North Eastern. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]
By BONIFACE ONGERI
GARISSA, KENYA: Following government announcement of plans to close Dadaab camp, volunteers are preparing families for what they termed as inevitable repatriation.
Formal and informal volunteers have been convening town hall meetings or conducting door-to-door campaigns in the camp to encourage refugees to prepare to go back home.
Interior and Coordination of National Government Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku in November ordered the closure of refugee camps and asked all aid agencies supporting the families to move their operations to Somalia.
“The debate about closing the camps has been overtaken by events. There is no turning back on the process of repatriating the refugees. This is in their best interest and their hosts”, said Mr Lenku after a visit to the camps.
Parliamentary Defence Committee Chairman Ndung’u Gethenji said the refugee camps have been turned into terrorists training grounds.
Mr Gethenji said Kenya had to rethink “its hospitality in supporting refugee camps within Kenyan borders following the Al-Shabaab terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
Plans to close the refugee camp came after a tripartite agreement signed by the government of Somalia, Kenya and the United Nation’s Human Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicating voluntary repatriation, has increased the pressure on Somali refugees to return to their country.
Mohamednur Madow Nunow, a community activist in Dadaab refugee camp, said majority of the refugees are not adequately prepared to head back home.
“Some of the refugees are not even aware of the Kenyan government order to close the camp that is why we have volunteered to go round the camps to educate the refugee community,” said Mohamednur who is also the Project Director of Peace Education International.
According to UNHCR, there are about 360,000 registered Somali refugees in Kenya with hundreds others not officially registered.
Mohamednur said educating the community is very crucial to ensure that in case the government closes the camp the refugees will not be caught unawares.
He says the organisation is also working to ensure refugees maintain peace and coexist harmoniously when they return to their country.
“In the camps, the refugees have lived side by side regardless of their clan affiliations that tear them apart back home. That is why we want to ensure that they continue with the same”, he said.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
He said the communities are educated on how to settle and establish themselves once in their country. The groups are also mobilising Somalis in the Diaspora to help the returnees establish themselves.
The repatriation will see some refugees who have known the camps as their home, make the first visit to their country.
PED International Programme Coordinator Shakir Mohammed Mohamud, called on the Somalia government and aid agencies to cater for the returnees medical, security and other needs.
Besides the camps closure awareness, the organisation is also engaged in refugee assessment, distribution of school materials, peace and education programmes and empowerment.
Currently, the volunteers are paying for their own logistics moving around the camps for the campaign.
Mr Ali Hassan Abdi, a refugee in Hagaldera camp said other families have turned on social media to publicise the repatriation process.
“Some of us have taken to the social media cites like Facebook to encourage everyone to be ready to avoid shockers”, he said.
“We are grateful for Kenyans to have hosted us. When we go back home, we will remember Kenyans for their hospitality”, he said.
He also asked the government for more time to allow the refugees to leave voluntarily.
“At the moment, it appears that we are being chased. It will be good if we leave in peace because when we sought refuge in Kenya we were fleeing war”, he said.