At least 254,811 Somali refugees from Dadaab camp in Garissa have been voluntarily repatriated since 2013, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.
The repatriation started after a tripartite agreement between Kenya, the Somalia government and the UNHCR in November 2013.
Speaking during Refugee Market Day in Dadaab yesterday, UNHCR head of operations for Dadaab office Jean Bosco Rushatsi said another 4,949 non-Somali refugees have been relocated to Kalobeyei in Kakuma camp.
Rushatsi said their office in Somalia takes charge of the refugees as soon as they cross over the Kenyan border.
“The safety of the refugees returning home is our top priority. We have to ensure the returnees are in safe hands at all times,” Rushatsi said.
“We are happy we’ve been able to take at least 250,000 refugees back home.”
Refugees destined for Mogadishu and Kismayu were airlifted after bus transport was suspended due to poor roads occasioned by heavy floods along the Dadaab-Liboi-Dhobley road.
Al Shabaab militants were frustrating the repatriation via road by planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along the road, a security expert told the Star.
The expert asked not to be named because he was not allowed to speak to the media. He said al Shabaab was still a threat to lives of refugees.
Refugees interviewed said they were reluctant to return to Somalia citing lack of social amenities like proper healthcare and education. They also cited insecurity.
“I supplement what UNHCR is giving us through my small business,” Halima Mahat said. She sells groceries and has been at the camp since 2004.
Women have been trained on farming. Mohammed Abdi who works with the Refugee Education Trust (RET) trained the women. He said they were able to enjoy balanced diet and sell surplus food.
Those willing to return have been trained in various livelihood skills to make them in self-reliant.
Parach Machar from South Sudan, who graduated in electrical installation, said he was not ready to return home owing to civil war in his country.
“I would love to return to my motherland despite the challenges facing it now. The civil war in South Sudan is a major setback for peace and stability,” Machar said.
The electrical installation graduate urged leaders to put the interest of the nation ahead of the selfish ambitions.
“How do want to lead an impoverished country whose people are suffering. Poverty, diseases and lack of social amenities in South Sudan is unimaginable,” Machar said.
He thanked UNHCR partners for his education.
More than 50 per cent of Dadaab’s current population of 208,616 are involved in small businesses to supplement UNHCR food supplies which have drastically reduced over the last five years.
They now receive food rations once a month and not twice as before. The rationing follows the scaling down of Dadaab humanitarian operations to about 25 per cent of relief given in 2011.