The government has repudiated a report by medical charity group MSF that claimed 86 per cent of refugees at Dadaab do not want to leave.
Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said there are "serious doubts" about the figures because UN refugee agency UNHCR itself has found that most want to go back home.
"UNHCR has found many refugees are willing to leave. We are just constrained by lack of funding and that is why the repatriation has been slow.
"These findings are part of these organisation's self-interests to continue having a presence in Dadaab and earn big salaries....," he said.
But the medical charity group, which runs a hospital at the camp, on Friday defended its findings saying they were within the range of reports by UNHCR which had previously stated that just a quarter of the refugee population were ready to return.
“(The) last UNHCR survey made in Dadaab in August showed that only 25 per cent of the refugees were willing to return. That is not that different from our figure,” said Yann Libessart, MSF East Africa Communications Coordinator.
Actually, the said UNHCR report dated Sep 1-15 noted that 69, 532 Somali refugees, 264 Ethiopians and 15 from other countries were willing to go. But it added that “the return of Somali refugees from Dadaab camps gained significant momentum as many refugees are reported to be registering for repatriation across the camps. UNHCR and its repatriation partners are working to reinforce their capacity to be able to respond to the high number of refugees willing to return.”
It is this bit that the government is citing to question MSF’s findings. Dadaab is a population of 276, 945.
On Friday, MSF also denied the self-interest charge arguing its own staff have been killed and others kidnapped for serving in Dadaab before.
The report: Dadaab to Somalia: Pushed back into Peril says an “overwhelming” number of people interviewed by MSF staff said they wouldn’t return to Somalia, yet, because they feared losing out on services offered to them at Dadaab. MSF said it sampled 838 refugees at Dagahaley in July and August this year to seek their views on the planned closure of the camp and their repatriation to Somalia.
Dagahaley is the second most populous of the five camps at Dadaab, hosting up to 71, 066 refugees as at the last UNHCR count. Others are Hagadera (85, 363), Ifo (70, 397), Ifo II (37, 064) and Kambios (13, 055).
In May, the government announced it will close down the camp by this November, citing security threats the camp posed. But a number of relief organisations like MSF and the Norwegian Refugee Council have called for alternatives saying Somalia was still unsafe.
Mr Njoka said it would be unrealistic to wait for the entire Somalia to be safe. “Of course not every part of Somalia is insecure. There are parts which are safe and those are areas we will want them to go,” he said.