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Voluntary repatriation of refugees bears fruit as 60,000 Somalis return home

Aerial view of Daadab refugee camp

The government has continued to work with UNCHR to repatriate refugees in Daadab camp who are voluntarily willing to go back to Somalia.

The Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) says so far 10,000 refugees have been assisted to return home while another 50,000 have spontaneously returned without any assistance.

In February 2016, Kenya launched the enhanced phase of voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in Kenya.

UNHCR is planning to repatriate 50,000 Somalis this year. “We are trying to plan for a possible 50,000 people (returning) in 2016,” Raouf Mazou, the UNHCR representative to Kenya, told Reuters in Dadaab camp in January.

In December 2015, UNHCR voluntary repatriated about 6,000 Somali refugees from the Dadaab settlement in northeast Kenya to areas in southern Somalia which have been pacified since December 2014.

“In total 5,853 Somali refugees returned home since December 8, 2014, when UNHCR started supporting voluntary return of Somali refugees in Kenya,” UN agency said in its bi-weekly report released in Nairobi.

Following the April 2, 2015, attack at Garissa University College by Al-Shabaab, the Kenya  government announced plans to close down the Dadaab refugee camp blamed for habouring militants.

Deputy President William Ruto said UNHCR must close the Dadaab refugee complex within three months or “we shall relocate them ourselves.”

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However, the directive was roundly condemned by human rights groups as going against the established international rules pertaining to refugees. Consequently the government went slow on the directive and has been working with UNHCR to repatriate refugees willing to return home.

Dadaab refugee camp, currently home to some 350,000 people, is the largest settlement in the world. For more than 20 years, it has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled a country embroiled in conflict.

Liberated and secured

The process of repatriation started in November 2013 following the signing of the Tripartite Agreement on Voluntary Repatriation Programme of Somalia Refugees by the Government of Kenya, The Federal Republic of Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery urged all Somalia refugees in Kenya to prepare to return home as their country now has a stable government.

 “Kenya is happy to have supported and protected refugees on her soil and will support the integration process of the returnees in their country.”

Maj Gen (Rtd) Nkaissery said he is confident that since many parts of Somalia have been liberated, secured and stabilised, the country is now much more conducive than ever for return of her citizens.

“We understand the circumstances under which many people from Somalia came to seek refuge in Kenya. Fortunately many of the factors in Somalia that created the influx of refugees into Kenya have positively changed. East or West, everyone knows home is best. It is for these reasons that the Government of Kenya is robustly encouraging Somali refugees to go back home,” said  Nkaisserry.

To facilitate the voluntary repatriation, all Somalia refugees have been asked to register with the camp managers in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps as well as at DRA offices in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret or UNHCR offices.

In December 2014, Kenya enacted a law aimed at forcing out of Kenya tens of thousands of Somali refugees and asylum seekers. It sought to accomplish this by amending the Refugees Act and putting a ceiling on the number of refugees that may be present in the country at a time.

However, in response to multiple legal challenges to the constitutionality of the law, on February 23, 2015, the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court of Kenya at Nairobi found the provision unconstitutional.

The court noted that placing a cap on the number of refugees and asylum seekers that may be present in Kenya would invariably result in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Dadaab was set up in 1991 to house families fleeing conflict in Somalia.

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