The U.N. refugee agency has warned that a large-scale return of refugees from Kenya's Dadaab camp could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in parts of Somalia.
UNHCR said it was aware of Kenya's recently renewed call to close the Dadaab refugee camp, which houses 230,000 people. Dana Hughes, the agency's senior regional spokesperson for East Africa, noted that this had happened before.
As in the past, she said, the UNHCR continues to work with the Kenyan government to implement a long-term, sustainable solution for the refugees. These steps include resettlement in third countries, family reunification, and relocation of some refugees in other parts of the country.
She said returns could occur relatively safely in some areas of Somalia. But, speaking by phone from Uganda, she told VOA that in most cases, repatriation is too dangerous to consider now.
"Most of the areas that the refugees from Dadaab come from cannot be considered stable for any kind of large-scale returns, and in fact it could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis that exists in those parts of Somalia," Hughes said.
Some safe spots
Hughes said African Union and other forces had largely established peace in 12 areas in Somalia, and that UNHCR continued to assist people who voluntarily wanted to return there. She noted that more than 82,000 refugees from Dadaab had gone back since 2014.
But in general, she said, large parts of Somalia are not ready for the massive return of refugees.
"While Somalia has made some progress in development over the last few years, it still is a country that has had decades of war, which means decades of a lack of infrastructure, and still is rebuilding itself," Hughes said. "And so, of course, any large-scale returns would not aid the stability that Somalia is trying to build."
Hughes said the UNHCR was thankful to Kenya for its generosity in hosting the Somali refugees for decades despite the toll it has taken on the environment and other aspects of life. She said her agency was having discussions with Kenyan authorities about the possible closure of the Dadaab camp.