The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 24,000 Somali refugees have been repatriated from Kenya since a tripartite deal was signed in 2014.
Speaking at the Dadaab refugee camp in northeast Kenya on Wednesday, UNHCR Kenya Deputy Representative, Wella Kouyou, said some 18,000 Somali refugees returned home this year as UNHCR stepped up the voluntary repatriation.
Kouyou said UNHCR would work closely with the Kenyan and Somali governments to ensure that return of refugees is not only voluntary but done in dignified manner.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, was set up some 20 years ago to house people fleeing conflict in Somalia.
The Kenya government earlier this year said it would close the camp and repatriate all the more than 300,000 Somali refugees living in it, citing enviromental and security concerns.
The government claims Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants have hideouts in Dadaab. A savage Al-Shabaab attack at Garissa University College in northeast Kenya last April killed 148 people, most of whom are students.
UNHCR, Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in 2014, but the process has been slow until this year.
However, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Nkaissery, said on Sunday that the repatriation was facing uncertainty as the government must adhere to UN conventions and protocols.
Nkaissery said that although the government was determined to carry out the exercise, dialogue on the matter was still ongoing.
Nkaissery said Kenya had to make sure that Somalia is adequately prepared to receive its people, hinting a softened position on the Dadaab closure.
He said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will next month lead a Kenyan delegation to the UN General Assembly, where the modalities of the repatriation process will be discussed, with the hope that Kenya’s stand on the issue will be supported.