Is repatriation a solution for Somali refugees?
The Kenyan government has accommodated Somali and other refugees for a long time but currently the government is trying to push Somalis out of Kenya. In May 2012, the former president Mwai Kibaki said that Dadaab camp was unsuitable and that the international community should assist the government to send the Somali refugees back to their country.
Since the new government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took power in September 2012, it is believed that stability in Somalia has improved. In July, 2013 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres traveled to Kenya where he met with Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku to discuss the security situation in Somalia in relation to Somalis returning.
While the human rights situation is fragile in that country, the High Commissioner for Refugees underlined that Kenya and other countries in the region should work in close collaboration with UNHCR and refugees themselves to find a durable solution for every refugee or family.
The Governments of Kenya and Somalia will work with UNHCR to establish a Tripartite Commission on Standards and Procedures of voluntary repatriation. Mr. Guterres told Kenyan officials that “the return of Somali refugees must be voluntary, conducted in safety and dignity.”
On the 31st May, 2013, the Somali ambassador to Kenya Mr. Mohamed Ali Nur visited Kakuma refugee camp. His objective was to facilitate the smooth return of Somali refugees from Kenya to Mogadishu. The ambassador’s visit marks an encouragement to Somali refugees who need an end to their protracted situation, through the prospect of returning home voluntarily.
On Tuesday, 4th June 2013, the Department for Refugee Affairs officially announced the commencement of “Somali Voluntary Repatriation”. The Somali refugees who seek to go back to Somalia should “approach the office of the camp manager who will officially facilitate the return!” a part of the announcement notice read.
The unprepared notification caused shock to some Somali refugees who may not be willing to return to their country immediately. Some Somali refugee leaders from some of the major tribes stated the call for repatriation was premature. “We’re not ready to go back to Mogadishu, our community is not prepared for it either, it’s not yet safe,” M. Gabo told Kanere.
Refugees in the camps have expressed confusion over return primarily due to lack of proper information from the concerned authority.
In the camps the Help Desks haven’t presented the information in a clear and transparent manner, causing fear about safe returns. “I was told that Mogadishu was a safe place but I haven’t been told how secure it is?” Amina Jamal from Kakuma says she’s confused about the process of repatriation.
Some of the refugees complained that their questions are not answered timely, causing a gap in individual or family decision making on their return to Somali after decades.
Some raised the issue of claiming a plot of land after decades of civil war. “Are there any armed escorts from organizations accompanying us to go back and claim our property, land and other belongings?” asked Hussein Abdinasir, unsure about returning back.
Motivation and Repatriation Grants
“Is UNHCR providing grants to spontaneously repatriating Somalis?” – is a question that has not had a clear response in the months since voluntary repatriation was announced.
“Do the returnees have any choice, who is responsible for travel and assistance?” a Somali leader in Kakuma 2 questioned.
The refugees facing repatriation are confused and some people might need extensive counseling beside the need to provide them with material or cash grants to support their return.
It was hoped that the World Food Program will provide high energy biscuits to returnees during their travel to their habitual residency. However, the effort to gain an official comment from WFP was not successful even after several attempts by Kanere reporters.
A UNHCR official who wished to remain anonymous, stated that refugee returnees are supported with Unconditional Repatriation Grants which are estimated to be US $200 for each individual registered refugee returning voluntarily.
Meanwhile, according to the humanitarian operational highlights at the end of July, a total of 806 Somalis had returned from Kenya to Somalia through: Dhobley, Belet Xaawo and Ceel Waaq as they head to their habitual place of residence in Mogadishu, Kismaayo, Afmadow, Baydhaba, Baardheerr and Belet Weyne. By the end of October, at least 30,000 refugees had returned to Somalia either with UNHCR assistance or by their own means.