Kenya Sunday signed an agreement with Somalia to send home more than a million Somali refugees over the next three years.
The agreement was signed by Deputy President William Ruto and Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister and minister for Foreign Affairs, Fawzia Yusuf Adam.
It is a joint plan not just to send the refugees home, but also have them re-integrated in Somali society once they get there.
Kenya, Somalia as well as the international community, are required to provide resources to help in repatriating the refugees, majority of whom are currently based at the Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya.
Kenya hosts 610,000 documented and another 500,000 undocumented Somali refugees.
Speaking during the signing ceremony, Mr Ruto said that 80,000 refugees had already left for Somalia.
He said the high number of Somali refugees living in the country posed security challenges to the government.
“It is not the tradition for an African country to complain about visitors, especially those fleeing from danger,” he said. “Even so, the large number of undocumented refugees, as well as the sheer magnitude of the entire refugee burden, has created unprecedented security challenges for Kenya.”
The challenges, he said, include terrorism, banditry “as well as common criminals taking improper advantage of refugee status”.
He also said elements of the refugee population have also provided a conduit for the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Kenya. He said there was an increase in cases of fraudulent acquisition of Kenyan travel and identification documents owing to the demand within the refugee population.
With Somalia on a clear path to recovery and stability, it was time for the thousands of refugees to return home.
“In many parts of Somalia, conditions are favourable for the safe return of our brothers and sisters. Somalia is firmly in a post-conflict phase and the world has given its strongest indications ever that it will support its reconstruction,” the Deputy President said.
He said Kenya was straining financially to raise the budget to maintain the numerous refugee camps in the country, including providing the refugees with basic amenities such as education, health and water.
“In particular, refugees in our country receive the same standard of education as Kenyans and Kenyatta University, a state institution, even runs a campus in the Dadaab Complex.
“We have done our best. But this will never be enough. Life as a refugee is not a fate that anyone should undergo forever. The international community is vested with a sacred trust - to ensure that refugee status is not a condition in perpetuity,” said Mr Ruto.
He said refugees had acquired skills, experiences, contacts and in many instances, capital, and this put them in a position to contribute significantly in rebuilding Somalia once they return.
He urged the Somalia government to facilitate the speedy resettlement of returning refugees so that they could start contributing to rebuilding the war-torn nation.
Mr Ruto assured Somalia that Kenya was committed to working with other regional countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the African Union and the international community to help the refugees settle back in their homeland.
“We have done our best to make them feel at home away from their home. We will do even more to make them feel at home back home,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed said the repatriation process was the beginning of a journey of hope for the refugees.