60 000 Somali refugees go home
11 July 2013, 08:19
Nairobi - Tens of thousands of Somali refugees have
returned home as security in their homeland has improved, the United
Nations said on Wednesday, saying it would support a further 60 000
refugees who are ready to go back.
The number of refugees from
Somalia - 1.1 million - is a third of those from Afghanistan and Syria.
Around half of them live in squalid, overcrowded camps in neighbouring
Kenya's arid north.
Kenya is keen to repatriate them because it
believes that militants have used refugee camps as bases to launch
attacks since it sent soldiers to Somalia in 2011 to drive out Islamist
rebels linked to al-Qaeda.
Alongside other African troops, the
military push drove the al-Shabaab group out of major centres, although
it still controls swathes of countryside.
At least 20 000
Somalis have returned from neighbouring countries this year, the UN
refugee agency UNHCR said, although it warned that some returns may be
temporary. The UNHCR has also helped more than 16 000 internally
displaced Somalis get home this year.
"This is a moment of hope for Somalia," UNHCR head Antonio Guterres said.
of thousands have indeed spontaneously returned to Somalia. And this
is something we cannot ignore and this is something that requires from
us an adequate response."
Somalia is attempting to rebuild after
two decades of civil war and lawlessness, backed by international aid
aimed at preventing it becoming a haven for al-Qaeda-style militants.
a meeting on Wednesday with Kenya's minister of interior, Guterres
proposed a phased repatriation plan, starting with support to an
estimated 60,000 spontaneous returnees followed by a pilot project
assisting group returns to safe areas.
"We came to a very clear, common understanding of the way to go forward in relation to Somali refugees," he said.
was an outcry in December when the Kenyan government announced plans
to forcibly relocate some 100 000 refugees living in urban areas to
camps. The High Court blocked the move.
The Kenyan government is organising an international conference in August to discuss Somali refugee repatriation.
country plays host to the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, with a
population of 430 000 people, down from a peak of 540 000 in 2011 when
there was an influx of Somalis fleeing famine conditions.
Most refugees come from south central Somalia, where security remains fragile.
are not yet safe for a rushed, large-scale repatriation," UNHCR said
in a statement, adding that Jubaland, where Kenyan forces are fighting
Islamic militants, is tense and that humanitarian agencies are unable
to deliver aid there.
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