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Only 3,000 out of 10,000 Somali refugees going home

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By FRED OLUOCH, Special Correspondent

IN SUMMARY

  • The Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was signed in November 2013. It establishes a legal framework for Somali refugees in Kenya who may eventually wish to return home.

  • The Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs launched the registration on July 15, with the objective of repatriating 80,000 by December this year and 200,000 by the end of next year.

  • By the end of June, there were a total of 356,879 registered Somali refugees in Dadaab.

The first phase of the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees will start this month despite the number of volunteers being only a third of what was expected when the registration started two weeks ago.

Factors slowing down the return of those who have volunteered to go back to Somalia include insecurity, lack of opportunities to earn a living and the uneasy relations between Kenya and Somalia over the recent crackdown on illegal foreigners.

Following the signing of the Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in November 2013, the Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs launched the registration on July 15 with the objective of repatriating 80,000 by December this year and 200,000 by the end of next year.

However, only 3,000 have registered with UNHCR to return voluntarily compared with the target of 10,000.

The Commissioner for Refugee Affairs, Haron Komen, said those who are willing to return to Somalia will be supported both materially and financially. He advised refugees to organise themselves as groups or families to ease transport and settlement arrangements.

The Tripartite Agreement establishes a legal framework for Somali refugees in Kenya who may eventually wish to return home. But it is emerging that consultations at the ministerial level, involving Kenyan and Somali foreign and interior ministers, have not happened, which is hindering the smooth implementation of the Tripartite Agreement.

By the end of June, there were a total of 356,879 registered Somalia refugees in Dadaab, which comprises the Hagadera, Kambios, Dagahaley, Ifo and Ifo2 camps.

“The government of Somalia must put a number of measures in place to ensure the safety of the returnees and provide them with facilities to reconstruct their lives. But we are optimistic that the pilot project will start in the course of August,” said UNHCR Kenya country representative Raouf Mazoe.

In May, the government of Somalia boycotted a conference on refugees that was planned in Kenya in protest against the Usalama Watch operation that saw over 300 Somali nationals deported. The goal of the conference was to finalise the process of repatriation and work out how each government would assist the process.

The Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the indiscriminate crackdown targeting Somali refugees by Kenyan paramilitary troops had made it impossible for Somalia to participate in the conference, since it was contrary to international laws on refugees’ rights and particularly the Geneva Convention signed in 1951.

However, Mr Mazoe said that the Usalama Watch was an internal Kenyan operation that had no link with the pilot repatriation programme, which is targeting an initial 10,000 to be transported to Kismayu and Baidoa.

“This was a misunderstanding that was later corrected. Out of the 300 Somali nationals who were deported only six had refugee status,” said Mr Mazoe.

Kenya arrested more than 4,000 Somali refugees in a security operation carried out by its paramilitary troops, and a report by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) released in mid-July, listed violation of human rights and other unethical conduct by the police during the operation.

The report said there were allegations of people with valid documents being arrested in violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Some detainees alleged that police officers extorted bribes during their arrest and transportation to police stations.