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Kenya, Somalia, UNHCR form commission to oversee repatriation of refugees

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IN SUMMARY

  • Signed in 2013, the tripartite pact between the two countries and the UN agency expires in September 2016. Both UNHCR and Somalia have argued this agreement should provide the guideline for voluntary repatriation.

The Kenyan government has agreed to form a tripartite commission that will be charged with overseeing the repatriation of Somali refugees at the Dadaab Camp.

On Tuesday, Kenya, Somalia and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said they had formally nominated four representatives each to a team to "expedite repatriation of refugees at Dadaab."

Kenya's Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed told reporters in Nairobi that the commission will help the three parties "discuss ideas" that will see a faster return of refugees to Somalia.

The formation of the Commission, which is provided for in the tripartite agreement signed in September 2013, is a result of a meeting with Somali Foreign Minister, Dr Abdusalam Omer, UNHCR representative Raouf Mazou among other stakeholders in Nairobi.

But it was also informed by recent announcement by the Kenyan government that Dadaab should be closed in 90 days.

Ms Mohamed declined to comment on whether the 'repatriation' would happen within the 3 month window announced earlier but hinted that the 90-day notice will be the "bottom line.".

"We have agreed today that we are going to do everything in our power to expedite the repatriation of refugees....We have agreed that we will do it as quickly as possible. I don't want to put any timelines on it because a lot will also depend on the resources available," she said during a press conference at her office.

Voluntary

Signed in 2013, the tripartite pact between the two countries and the UN agency expires in September 2016. Both UNHCR and Somalia have argued that this agreement should guide the process of voluntary repatriation.

However, Kenya argues that the camp, the largest in the world and which is now 24 years old, should be closed as soon as possible because it harbours terrorist cells.

So far, only 2,060 refugees have voluntarily returned to Somalia through the tripartite agreement even as Kenya says that another 50,000 went back on their own.

At least Ksh9 billion (around $96 million) is required to repatriate all 350,000 refugees to Somalia. The parties say a pledging conference will be held next month to pitch the idea of faster return to donors.

Yet most donors like Germany, which last month gave Sh500 million for the programme, continue to insist that the process must be voluntary.

"Anything that has been done has been done within the context of the tripartite agreement signed in 2013," Mr Mazou told reporters. "We also believe that Somalia needs a lot of support."

Somalia on its part says it wants all refugees to come home but wants the process to be "orderly."

"We want all people in Kenya to understand that 20 years is such a long time for anybody to be a refugee. We will do everything that we can to ensure refugees come back home. We would like this to be as voluntary, orderly and quick as possible. Quickly means that anytime that they are ready to go, they will go," Dr Omer said, adding they will cooperate with Kenyan authorities to weed out extremists.