In Kenya, UNHCR chief discusses solutions for Somali refugees
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres met Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku today to discuss the situation in Somalia and Kenya's interests in seeing Somali refugees here returning home.
"For the first time in over two decades, there is a chance to establish normalcy," Guterres said. "Consolidating peace is very challenging and Somalia is fragile, but the process is moving in the right direction."
While underlining the fragility of the situation in Somalia, the High Commissioner encouraged the countries in the region to work with UNHCR and refugees themselves to find the best solution for every refugee.
Mr. Guterres told Kenyan officials it is time to move from "care and maintenance" of Somali refugees in their country to solutions "where the return of refugees is fully voluntary, and conducted in safety and dignity."
UNHCR will work with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia to establish a tripartite commission on standards and procedures for voluntary repatriation. Mr. Guterres is planning to propose similar commissions for other major Somali refugee hosting countries. He travels on Thursday to Ethiopia for high-level talks.
In his meetings in Mogadishu on Tuesday and Nairobi today, Mr. Guterres proposed a phased approach, starting by assisting refugees who are spontaneously returning to Somalia. The next step would be a pilot project under which UNHCR could help assist groups of refugees return to a number of selected places in Somalia judged to be safe and stable. As conditions inside Somalia become conducive this would be followed by enhanced facilitation and finally the promotion of repatriation.
"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 destabilization."
Mr. Guterres noted that the situation in Jubaland, the region where a large majority of refugees in Kenya originate, is tense, and humanitarian actors including UNHCR are unable to access certain areas to deliver aid and monitor the situation. Also, Somalis continue to flee violence, although in smaller numbers than in previous years. "This is a moment of hope for Somalia," Mr. Guterres said, "It all depends on how things evolve."
Mr. Guterres also expressed appreciation for Kenya's generous policy toward refugees and a partnership that for UNHCR represents "one of the most important in the world for refugee protection." There are now over 600,000 registered Somali refugees in Kenya.
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Travelling with High Commissioner Guterres
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