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At last week's London Conference on Somalia, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki called for a “firm and durable” solution to the refugee crisis. This includes the return of Somali refugees from the camps in Kenya’s northeast back over the border into Somalia.
Over the last twenty years, Kenya received the vast majority of displaced Somalis – and continued to during the most recent famine. The Dadaab refugee camp (the largest in the world) is dangerously overcrowded.
Designed to host 90,000 refugees, Dadaab now houses nearly half a million. Recently, there have been attacks on refugees, aid workers, and Kenyan police in and around the camp. But it is unrealistic to assume that large numbers of refugees would be interested in voluntarily returning to Somalia any time soon, even in the face of deteriorating conditions in the camp.
While the famine in Somalia has been officially declared over, and despite the optimistic statements made last week by politicians at Lancaster House, much of Somalia remains extremely unstable.
There are over 1.3 million internally-displaced people (IDPs) within the country, and military operations over the past two months have pushed thousands more from their homes and re-displaced others. Gains on the food security front remain fragile. Furthermore, few of the more than 500,000 refugees living in camps like Dadaab are from the areas supposedly “liberated” on the other side of the border.
While some humanitarian agencies are providing aid within south-central Somalia at this time, safety concerns would make large-scale assistance for these new returnees impossible. Therefore, if refugees were to be pushed back to these areas, these individuals would go from being refugees in Kenya to being IDPs in Somalia, with even less assistance than they now enjoy.
It must be stressed that any return by Somalis to Somalia must be voluntary, safe, and dignified. Any forced returns – by Kenya, or other nations – would be a violation of international refugee law.
Since we do not expect conditions conducive to substantial voluntary return to develop anytime soon, Refugees International is calling on Kenya to re-start registrations and security screenings of new refugees arriving in the country. This would ensure that vulnerable families get the assistance they need, and enhance security for the refugees and Kenyans alike.February 29, 2012 | Tagged as: Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Humanitarian Response, Protection & Security