The voluntary repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees from Kenya has started, even as the security situation in their homeland remains fragile, the United Nations Refugee Agency said.
A first group of 116 Somali refugees returned on Wednesday and will be settled in the southwestern towns of Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo, the UNHCR said in a statement on its website. Kenya has threatened to close the refugee complexes to improve national security. The government said Islamist militants are using the camps to plan local attacks in retaliation for Kenya sending troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the insurgents.
Al-Shabaab militants carry out regular bombings that target civilians and state officials in Somalia and the group was behind two high-profile assaults in Kenya at a university and shopping mall, which together killed more than 200 people. The militants have lost control of key territory in Somalia to an African Union military coalition over the past few years.
The Dadaab complex in northern Kenya was set up to deal with an influx of people fleeing conflict in Somalia following the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The UN, Somalia and Kenya have agreed to the phased repatriation of an estimated 425,000 refugees to Somalia over the next five years, according to UNHCR. The Dadaab camps host about 333,000 people, according to the UN.