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Kenya Wants Somali Refugees to Go Home, but UN Urges Caution

The Kenyan government is in talks with Somalia over the repatriation of Somali refugees living in the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. But insecurity at the camp has put pressure on Kenya to relocate its residents, while instability in Somalia remains a concern for those thinking of returning home. The camp in northern Kenya shelters more a quarter of a million refugees, and most have been there for more than two decades.

The Kenyan government is growing increasingly concerned about accommodating such a large refugee population and about security issues.

Since last December, Kenya has been working to relocate Somali refugees back to Somalia.

But Somali refugee youth leader Abdifatah Ibrahim wants the government to reconsider its stand because of insecurity in the region.

“The repatriation process should be halted 'till negotiations are done and peace prevails in Juba valley so apparently we cannot allow ourselves to give consent to going back to southern Somalia,” says Ibrahim.

Kenya says it is working closely with Somali authorities to relocate refugees.

In June, Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said it is in Somalia’s interest to take back its own people.

“It’s a question of a government talking to another government: 'we are ready now to take back our people, can we have them?' And what our government is telling the Somali people: 'you have not seen any movement of those people, get ready to go back to your country, your country is free now.'”

Kenya’s High Court has ruled against a plan to round up refugees in cities and send them back to the camps, a blow to the government’s relocation plans.

No 'stable country to go back to'

Still, Kenya is pursuing ways to return the refugees to Somalia, a move opposed by some refugees like Ahmed Ibrahim.

“The people who requested the return of refugees don’t understand the state of these refugees. We don’t have a stable country to go back to,” said Ibrahim.

The United Nations has also expressed concerns about repatriation UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres recently urged the government to respect the rights of refugees.

“The process of repatriation of Somali refugees to Somalia needs to abide by international law and to meet international standards and those standards are that it needs to be voluntary and it needs to be in safety and dignity,” he said.

Before any refugees return home, however, the United Nations Refugee Agency says conditions in Somalia first have to improve.