The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it plans to start a pilot project to support ongoing spontaneous returns of Somali refugees living in Kenya’s refugee camp, reports China’s Xinhua news agency.
UNHCR Country Representative Raouf Mazou emphasized that the planned repatriation will be voluntary and expressed the agency’s commitment to support spontaneous return movements.
“Most of the refugee population in Dadaab is of Somali origin, the majority of who are from South and Central Somalia. The volatile situation in these parts of the country has hindered the refugees from considering a return home,” Mazou said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
According to the UNHCR, many Somalis have expressed interest in going back, and are following the political and security situation closely.
The remarks came after Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed visited the Dadaab refugee complex last Friday where he met with refugee representatives including religious, minority and youth leaders.
During the visit, Abdiweli also met with refugees who have expressed interest in going back home.
The Somali prime minister promised the refugee leaders that his government will prioritise refugee return and reintegration in setting up recovery programmes.
“23 years in exile is such a long time. I hope you will be able to come back home and join us in rebuilding our motherland,” said the prime minister and thanked the Kenyans for their continued support to the Somali refugees.
Earlier in the month, UNHCR organised a visit to Kismayo for 19 refugee representatives from the five Dadaab camps to inform themselves about the economic and socio-political realities in the region to enable them share their experiences with the camp residents.
Most of the Somali refugees fled homes as the country was plunged into anarchy by the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991.
There are currently 427,812 Somali refugees in Kenya, 244,340 in Ethiopia, 233,723 in Yemen, 19,799 in Djibouti and 18,534 in Uganda.
But with parts of Somalia showing signs of increasing stability, countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the possible to encourage them to return, while some Somalis have spontaneously decided to move back to areas under government control.
The Tripartite Agreement which was signed by Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR in November last year establishes a legal framework and other support for Somali refugees in Kenya who might eventually wish to return to their homeland.