UNHCR stresses that repatriation of Somalis from Kenya must be voluntary

News Stories, 26 November 2013

© UNHCR/J.Brouwer
Tents stretch away into the distance in a part of the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in north-east Kenya.

GENEVA, November 26 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reiterated that UNHCR and the Kenyan government agreed that all returns of Somalis refugees from Kenya to Somalia should be strictly voluntary. "UNHCR does not support forced returns," spokesman Adrian Edwards stressed in Geneva.

"This understanding was reaffirmed last Friday when the Kenyan and Somali refugee commissioners Badu Katelo and Ahmed Nur, visited Dadaab refugee camp-complex in north-eastern Kenya to discuss the repatriation process now starting," Edwards added. Their visit followed the signing on November 10 of a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the government of Kenya and the Somali government.

Edwards said that UNHCR works and speaks with the refugees daily, "but this visit provided the refugees with the opportunity to ask high-level Somali officials about the areas to which they are considering returning with some lively informal discussions in addition to town hall meetings."

The November 10 agreement sets out the legal framework for returns to Somalia. It specifies that all returns should be voluntary and take place in safety and dignity. There is no deadline in the agreement for the returns.

Implementation of voluntary repatriation will initially concentrate on supporting, on a pilot-project basis, refugees who are spontaneously returning to Somalia. Three areas in Somalia will be targeted for this purpose. So far, Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo are under discussion with the refugees.

Preparations are under way in both Kenya and Somalia to implement the pilot project. In Dadaab, return help-desks have been established to provide refugees with information and assistance on repatriation to Somalia.