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UN unlikely to hit targets for refugees’ return to Somalia

Wednesday May 18 2016

Refugees queue for food rations at the Dadaab

Refugees queue for food rations at the Dadaab camp. The UN has said it is unlikely that it will reach the target of repatriating 50,000 Somali refugees in 2016 and an additional 65,000 in 2017. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A total of 13,440 refugees have voluntarily returned to Somalia from the Dadaab camp in the past 18 months, a United Nations official said on Tuesday.

Judging by that number, it is unlikely that the UN will reach a target of repatriating 50,000 Somali refugees in 2016 and an additional 65,000 in 2017.

The goals were set in the context of a 2013 tripartite agreement signed by the governments of Kenya and Somalia and by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Returns to Somalia have recently been slowed down due to rains that have made the road from Garissa impassable.

The UN has had to rely on airlifts to repatriate Somalis at a cost of up to $25,000 (Sh2.5 million) per flight, UNHCR spokesman Andrew Needham wrote in an email to the Nation.


More than 340,000 refugees — a majority of them from Somalia — remained in the Dadaab complex as of the end of April 2016, the UNHCR reported.

Nearly 190,000 refugees — more than half of them from South Sudan — were counted in the Kakuma camps as of mid-March.


The Kenyan government announced earlier this month that it intends to close the Dadaab complex and require its residents to return to Somalia.

“If the refugees are forced to return, this would be a breach of international law and UNHCR would not facilitate such a move,” Mr Needham wrote.

“Forceful return of refugees back to their countries would have very severe humanitarian and practical consequences, and would be a breach of Kenya's international obligations,” he added.

The UN refugee agency gives each voluntary returnee a $100 (Sh10,000) stipend up to a maximum of $600 (Sh60,000) per household.

Repatriated refugees also receive three months of food assistance upon return as well as some other items, Mr Needham said.

The UN covers the cost of transportation as well.


UNHCR has previously warned that threats of attacks by Al-Shabaab and a lack of basic services in Somalia militate against a large-scale return of refugees.

But the agency added on Tuesday that it has little information about the fate of those refugees who have voluntarily returned to their homeland.

“It has proven difficult to establish a picture of how returnees are faring for a number of reasons,” Mr Needham said.

“Often, returnees move on from areas where we have access, to areas where we are unable or have difficulty in accessing due to UN and other security constraints.

“However, we do endeavour to monitor through partners and our monitoring networks,” he added.

Many Dadaab residents have been living on reduced food rations for several months due to shortfalls in donor contributions.

Refugees at the Kakuma camp also had their rations cut by 30 per cent in 2015, but full food allowances in that camp were restored in February 2016 due to an increase in malnutrition rates, said World Food Programme Regional spokeswoman Challiss McDonough.