21 August 2014

East Africa: UNHCR Seeks Repatriation of Somali Refugees

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A group of Somali refugees waits to be registered by the UNHCR in Dadaab, Kenya (file photo).

Nairobi — The U.N. refugee agency on Wednesday called for East African countries hosting Somali refugees to make voluntary repatriation possible and sustainable.

Earlier this month, some UNHCR workers and Somali refugee leaders in Dadaab camp traveled to the port city of Kismayo to assess the security and socioeconomic situation of the city as part of the repatriation process.

UNHCR spokesman in Kenya, Emmanuel Nyabera said security is a major challenge in south and central Somalia and the group's visit helps the refugees make decisions knowing what awaits them if they decide to go back.

"They also noticed that some, which they had a lot of concern, [of] the medical facilities were not [as] good as needed, education system was a little bit a challenge because the curriculum was not very well defined," Nyabera said. "These are some of the things that they came and shared with refugees in the camps and this will enable refugees [to] make informed decisions."

For more than two decades, Somalia has witnessed a cycle of violence that has forced about 2 million people to flee and displaced hundreds of thousands inside the country.

Making return possible

Relative peace is returning to some parts of the country after African Union troops and Somali government forces pushed back the al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab.

Despite the security challenges, Nyabera said the U.N. agency is ready to support those refugees willing to go back home.

"We have to emphasize that so far we are not promoting repatriation as such, because mostly Somalis want to go to southern and central ... Somalia, [which] is not safe enough," Nyabera said.

"But then we are able to start preparation to see how many people want to go. We have opened [an] information desk in all the five camps in Dadaab, where we are addressing some of the concerns of the Somali refugees," he said.

Somali government representatives have withdrawn several times from negotiations on repatriation between Kenya and the UNHCR, citing human rights abuses against Somali refugees living in urban centers.

In April, Kenyan security forces carried out a major security crackdown they say was intended to flush out al-Shabab members and sympathizers - more than 5,000 Somalis were arrested.

Last month, humanitarian agencies warned of a possible famine like one three years ago that killed a quarter of a million Somalis.

Aid workers fear a food shortage would force thousands of Somalis back to camps.

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