MOGADISHU, Aug 5 (UNHCR)—More than 100 Somali refugees from Kenya flew into the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, marking a new chapter in the voluntary return process.
Earlier in the day, two planes, carrying 116 people, took off from Dadaab camp in Northeastern Kenya. Dadaab is the largest refugee settlement in the world and hosts about 333,000 Somali refugees.
The voluntary returns came after the Tripartite Commission formed by UNHCR and the Governments of Kenya and Somalia, agreed to step up support for voluntary repatriations of Somali refugees.
The Commission met on 29 July and decided to scale up assistance to Somali refugees in Kenya wishing to return home and agreed on a strategy that envisaged the voluntary repatriation of some 425,000 Somali refugees over a five-year period. Beside Dadaab, other Somali refugees live in Kakuma refugee camp and in major towns and cities across the country.
Despite continuing security challenges, refugees have started to return to Somalia. Between December 2014 and early August, 2015, some 2,969 Somali refugees returned to the districts of Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo, with UNHCR support as part of a pilot phase which has now ended.
Still more have returned spontaneously without receiving assistance from UNHCR. Under the current agreement assistance will be provided to returnees to any area of Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia.
UNHCR support includes standardized financial and in-kind assistance to ensure safe and dignified return, as well as longer-term support to help returnees reintegrate in areas they once fled from. The majority of the returns from Kenya to Somalia will take place by road as was the case during the pilot phase. UNHCR will only facilitate airlifts for people with specific protection needs.
Comprehensive development efforts are planned for nine districts in South Central regions—namely Mogadishu, Afgoye, Jowhar, Balcad, WanlaWeyn, Belet Weyne, Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo. Development efforts in these areas aim to strengthen access to employment opportunities as well as health, education and other public services to anchor returns in Somalia.
UNHCR together with the two governments involved will strengthen efforts to rally international support for comprehensive and community-based interventions to support the refugees and their communities.
A portfolio of humanitarian and development projects is being designed with the aim of creating a solid foundation for strengthening the resilience of the refugee and host communities in Kenya, preparing refugees for durable solutions, and creating conditions in Somalia that are conducive to meaningful and sustainable reintegration.
The portfolio of projects will be presented at a Pledging Conference that will take place later this year
The Tripartite Commission was established following the signing of the Tripartite Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Kenya, the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, and UNHCR, in November 2013 to govern the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya.
Following more than two decades of instability in Somalia compounded by consequences of recurring natural hazards, urgent solutions are needed for the 1.1 million internally displaced Somalis as well as the more than 900,000 Somali refugees hosted in the region, about half of whom reside in Kenya.
Story by Alexandra Strand Holm