Mooraa baqattootaa Dadaabii
Mooraa baqattootaa Dadaabii

NAIROBI - Two-thirds of Kenyans say they support closing the Dadaab refugee camp and sending all Somali refugees back home, a new survey shows.

In recent months, the Kenyan government has stated repeatedly it intends to close the camp in northeastern Kenya, which hosts more than 300,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia.

The United Nations has urged Kenya to reverse its decision, citing the difficulties Somalis will face if they are forced to return to an unstable country.

But IPSOS research analyst Tom Wolf says its survey shows that 69 percent of Kenyans support closing Dadaab.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, 500 to 1,000 refugees voluntarily return home every week, and more than 15,000 have crossed the border since December.

IPSOS researchers also asked Kenyans how they felt about their soldiers' presence in Somalia. Kenyan forces are part of a 22,000-person African Union force deployed in Somalia to support the government and fight Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

FILE - A Somali family wait to board a bus that wi
FILE - A Somali family waits to board a bus that will take them back home to Somalia from the Dadaab refugee camp in a voluntary repatriation programme, in Kenya, Jan. 21, 2016.

Wolf said 56 percent of Kenyans want their troops out of Somalia. He notes that more than a third, 38 percent, said the troops should be posted at the Kenya-Somalia border, to prevent cross-border incursions by terrorists.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka tells VOA that some Kenyans are not aware of the significance of having Kenyan soldiers in Somalia.

"Our troops are there to stabilize and to help enhance security in Somalia, so that … as we repatriate refugees back there, they are going to a safe and secure part of the country,” Njoka said. “Those who are demanding the return of our troops may not realize the magnitude and the effect, the role our troops are playing."

The director of the Center for Risk Management in Africa, George Musamali, says the security problem is bigger than the refugees.

Closure of the refugee camp "is not the solution,” he said. “The solution is pacifying Somalia. We are having another challenge coming out of South Sudan. So if we withdrew KDF [Kenyan forces] from Somalia without pacifying the country, then definitely we are going to have more serious security challenge."

Kenya hopes to close Dadaab camp later this year. Al-Shabab vows its attacks on Kenyan territory will continue until the government withdraws its forces from Somalia.