Rising insecurity in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps is prompting hundreds of refugees to return home to Somalia. Residents of the camps say gangs of bandits have made life too difficult for many of those who came to escape war and famine.
The Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya were supposed to be a sanctuary for Somalis escaping violence and food shortages at home, but in recent years, refugees at the camps have come increasingly under threat.
Abdirisack Mohammed is a journalist and a refugee who has lived in Dadaab for 21 years. He says the insecurity has become particularly bad in Ifo and Ifo 2 camps, which mostly house refugees who fled the famine in Somalia in 2011.
“In fact, when we were interviewing them they were telling us that they faced torture, rape and looting in Dadaab, especially Ifo 2, and that forced them to leave the camps," said Mohammed. "I remember a mother told us she came to refugee camps to get protection, not to get raped and all these sorts of inhumanities.”
Mohammed says bandits have been going around, mostly at night, demanding money and attacking camp residents.
“In fact, we feel bad living in an insecurity area, but we don't have any other option, rather than leaving the Dadaab refugee camps,” he said.
Violence has become a regular occurrence in Dadaab. Earlier this week, two people were killed in a grenade attack at the Dagahaley camp. A homemade bomb blast in December injured one person at Ifo 2.
The attacks have often targeted Kenyan government installations and personnel, while Kenyan security forces also have been killed in the town of Garissa, about 100 kilometers from Dadaab.
The United Nations refugee agency
(UNHCR), which oversees the camps, says it is not clear if those behind the attacks are from within Kenya or whether they are militants who have crossed over from Somalia.
UNHCR External Relations Officer Mans Nyberg told VOA's Somali Service that about 100 people are leaving the camps each day.
“There are various reasons and it's very difficult to say whether these movements are moving back to Somalia permanently or if it's just temporary and maybe they intend to come back to Dadaab later on. But it is [a] voluntary movement and spontaneous movement,” said Nyberg.
Nyberg says UNHCR has not been facilitating the return of refugees to Somalia, and does not have a presence on the other side of the border.
The Kenyan government has been putting pressure on Somali refugees blamed for contributing to violence in the country. In December, the head of Kenya's refugee agency ordered all refugees living in Nairobi and other cities around Kenya to relocate or return to the Dadaab camps, which already hold nearly 450,000 people.