It comes as the Kenyan government says it plans to close the world’s largest refugee camp, home to some 350,000 people, most of them Somalis.
Kenya has hosted Somali refugees for more than two decades in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp along the two countries’ common border.
But the Kenyan government says it wants to close the camp, citing economic, national security and environmental concerns.
While it acknowledges what it says will be the “adverse affects” the decision would have, Kenya cited the influence of militant group Al-Shabaab as one of the risks of keeping the camp open.
The international community and the UN have warned Kenya that it would violate its international obligations if it goes ahead with the move.
The Kenyan government says the international community has failed Somalia.
Kenya claims it has spent seven billion dollars on Dadaab over the past quarter century.
It wants the international community to build schools and other infrastructure across the border in Somalia to lure refugees back.
The Kenyan government had previously threatened to eject refugees, but this time says it will stick with a deadline expiring in six months that was agreed with Somalia and the UN.
Raouf Mazou is a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR.
Mr Mazou says Kenya still has an obligation to the refugees.
“They should continue to be provided asylum and protection by the government of Kenya because we do channel resources and support from the international community. At the end of the day, the protection and asylum is given by the Kenyan government and the Kenyan people and what the government of Kenya has repeated on a number of occassions taht it would continue to abide by international obligations as it had for the past 20-25 years. We have to keep in mind that Kenya is the second country in Africa when it comes to the number of refugees being received and Kenya has in the region played a positive role in providing support for the refugees.”
Mr Mazou says refugees are voluntarily returning to Somalia.
And he says some parts of the country are safe.
“You have to look at Somalia as a very diverse place. The security in various parts of Somalia varies and the refugees are going back to places that are safe and we know that since 2011 when we had the last major influc from Somalia – which was primarily due to the drought and famine – we’ve had a return of Somali refugees which we estimate of about 120,000. So there are parts of Somalia which are accessible, where refugees can return. The issue now is to make sure that in these parts of Somalia returnees have access to basic services.”
Until 2012, Somalia had been without a central government after the collapse of the hardline administration in 1991.
The government administers the capital Mogadishu, but much of the southern part of the country is under the control of the militant group, al-Shabaab.
Somalia is slowly rebuilding and is due to elect a new parliament in August.
However, some refugees say they are not ready to go back to their homeland.
One of them, Habiba Abdulahi, says she is still concerned about fighting between the government and al-Shabaab and that the country has few public services.
“We are ready to go back to our country but it’s not the timing, today or tomorrow, because the challenges and the reasons why we fled from Somalia, still some of the challenges are still there.”
Raouf Mazou agrees that refugees face many challenges upon their return.
“The most important thing is security. The second thing is some of the support that they get in Dadaab is education, which is health care, which is shelter – this is the kind of support that they require in their places of origin once they return. It’s expensive, it requires massive support from the international community. But there are parts of Somalia where people can rebuild their lives if provided with this kind of support.”
Source: Shabelle Media Network