The global refugee agency has proposed the formation of a body that will handle the repatriation of Somalia refugees from Kenya.
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) boss António Guterres wants the refugees, most based at the Dadaab Camp, be returned home in phases managed by a special commission.
The Commission would include members from Kenya and Somalia authorities as well as the agency itself in what Mr Guterres argues would ensure an acceptable return of the Somalis to their homes.
“If we do these returns properly, they can be a positive factor for development in Somalia," he said.
“On the other hand, if huge numbers of refugees go home prematurely, they could contribute to destabilisation.”
Kenya hosts more than 600,000 Somalia refugees, 400,000 of who stay in Dadaab camp in Garissa County. But the government has been demanding that they be returned home following the achievement of relative peace by AU Forces in Somalia.
In December last year, Commissioner of Refugees Badu Katelo ordered all refugees in urban centres back to camps. The government suspects some Somali refugees are sympathisers to al-Shabaab.
But Mr Guterres is touring the Horn to plead with countries hosting Somalia refugees to return refugees only based on what he called standard procedure.
On Tuesday, he met with Somali government officials in Mogadishu and suggested that the repatriation should start with supporting those who have already voluntarily showed desire to get back.
On Wednesday, he met Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku in Nairobi as well as Ethiopian authorities on Thursday in Addis Ababa. Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti host largest numbers of Somali refugees in the Horn.
The next step, he said, would be a pilot project under which UNHCR could help assist groups of refugees return to of selected places in Somalia judged to be safe and stable. Then as conditions inside Somalia become safer, more refugees should be returned.
“For the first time in over two decades, there is a chance to establish normalcy,” Guterres said after meeting Mr Lenku.
“Consolidating peace is very challenging and Somalia is fragile, but the process is moving in the right direction.”
There were no fixed dates on when the commission would be formed but it remains to be seen whether the host countries will agree to the suggestion of phasing the return of refugees to their home.
UNCHR admits that hosting refugees has been a burden to Kenya but wants a clear programme to return them home. Mr Guterres said repatriation should be voluntary and must be done only when the safety of refugees and their dignity is assured.
Somalia which has been a war-torn country since 1993 has recently started to stabilise itself following the efforts of Amisom Forces to which Kenya Defence Forces is part to eliminate insurgents from Mogadishu.
Last year, the country voted it its first president, Hassan Sheikh Mohmoud following the end of the transition period from 2005. A number of airlines have launched flights to Mogadishu and several countries have reopened their missions there.
However, UNHCR argues a number of places in Somalia are not yet safe because humanitarian agencies are still unable to access them.