UNHCR halts repatriation of Somali refugees over bad weather

The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday it has stopped repatriation of Somali refugees living in northeast Kenya due to bad weather conditions.

UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) also said it has so far repatriated 2,048 refugees from Kenya to Somalia under the current voluntary return pilot project which kicked off in December 2014.

“The return convoys have currently been stopped due to the bad condition of the roads,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement received in Nairobi.

Dadaab refugee camp, currently home to some 350,000 people, is the largest settlement in the world. For more than 20 years, it has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled a country embroiled in conflict.

Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR in April formed a commission charged with overseeing the voluntary return of Somali refugees from Dadaab camps, as set out in the tripartite agreement of November, 2013.

The agreement established a framework governing the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees. All parties to the agreement have committed to the voluntary nature of the returns and that they take place in safety and dignity.

The UNHCR said there are 2,605 Somali refugees, currently active in UNHCR database, who have communicated a willingness to return on a date convenient to them

“Since December 2014, when the pilot project of return was started, 2,048 refugees from Somalia have been supported by UNHCR to spontaneously return to Somalia,” it said.

The UN agency said a total of 10 individuals departed Dadaab for onward resettlement to Australia.

It said some 43 cases comprising of 231 individuals (including women and girls) underwent resettlement case composition interviews in a view to resettle them elsewhere apart from Somalia.

“The 18 cases comprising of 50 individuals were interviewed for resettlement processing and possible onward submission to resettlement countries,” UNHCR said.

According to UNHCR, the returnees received a return support package comprising of an unconditional cash grant, essential travel and hygiene kits for use during the journey home.

Somali refugees in Kenya are estimated at 500,000 and the number has increased due to turmoil and recurrent droughts in the Horn of African nation which has been torn asunder by factional fighting since 1991, but has recently made progress towards stability.

The conflict has left some 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 1 million more living in exile in neighboring countries, mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.

But with parts of Somalia showing signs of increasing stability, countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the potential to encourage them to return, while some Somalis have spontaneously decided to move back to areas under government control.


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