UN Agrees Plan for Voluntary Return of Somalia Refugees in Kenya

The United Nations Refugee Agency signed an agreement for Somalia’s government to prepare for the voluntary return of its citizens from refugee camps in Kenya and its capital, Nairobi.

“It’s very important to underline that no one is forcing Somalis to leave Kenya,” Raouf Mazou, the representative in Kenya of the agency known as UNHCR, said in an e-mailed statement today. The agreement “does not mean Kenya is no longer willing” to host refugees, he said.

Kenyan Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku last month said refugees are planning “terror attacks” from camps in the country. His comments followed a gun-and-grenade assault claimed by al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s affiliate based in Somalia, on a shopping mall in Nairobi over four days in September that left at least 67 civilians and security personnel dead.

There are about 475,000 registered Somali refugees in Kenya, and Deputy President William Ruto said the “burden created unprecedented security challenges” for the country, the Nairobi-based Daily Nation newspaper reported today.

The Dadaab complex in northeastern Kenya hosts more than 388,000 Somali refugees, while another 54,000 stay at Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya and 32,500 live in Nairobi, according to UNCHR.

The UN will help repatriate more Somali refugees as security improves in their homeland, cutting the risk of returnees becoming internally displaced or having to flee the country once again, according to the UNHCR statement.

Kenya sent more than 4,000 troops into southern Somalia two years ago to help African Union and Somali forces drive out al-Shabaab, which it blamed for a series of attacks on aid workers and tourists on Kenyan soil. The group denied the charge.

The conflict in Somalia since the 1991 fall of Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorship has forced about a million Somalis, about a 10th of its population, to flee their homeland, according to the UN.

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