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UNHCR calls for voluntary repatriation of refugees

12 July 2013, 16:05 Kelvin Wanjohi

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) has called for voluntary, dignified and safe repatriation of Somali refugees living in Kenya.

UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres said refugees should not be forced to leave camps noting that it contravenes their human rights.

He urged countries in the region to follow UNHRC procedures in repatriating refugees, noting that refugees should not be treated as criminals since they are protected by the international law.

Speaking to the press after meeting Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku in Nairobi, the Commissioner said their aim is to see Somali refugees return home safely.

The Commissioner asked countries hosting refugees from Somalia and other states to support the nation as it rebuilds following many years of internal war.

He further urged Somalia to allow free integration and movement of refugees returning home as the international refugees rights dictate.

 “We want the process of repatriation to be done in a safe way and in accordance to the UNHCR laws,” he said.

The High Commissioner revealed that the number of refugees at the Dadaab camp has drastically reduced over the past few months, but pointed out that the numbers are expected to reduce following the move by the government of Kenya to support repatriation of the refugees.

Guterres observed that the refugee population at Dadaab currently stands at 430 000, with 60 000 refugees believed to have returned home already.

Guterres stated that measures are in place to ensure the country returns to normalcy, saying a commission will be formed to spearhead peace.

He said the commission which will involve officials from the neighbouring states will institute programmes to ensure voluntary, dignified and safe repatriation.

“UNHCR will work with the governments of Kenya and Somalia to establish a tripartite commission based on standards and procedures for voluntary repatriation,” he stated.

Guterres said that they understand the effects of hosting millions of refugees has on the economic and political development of Kenya saying since the country is a member of UN, it has a role to play in hosting refugees. He lauded Kenya for implementing programmes in support of the war-torn country.

The Commissioner intimated that Somalia is slowly gaining ground following many years of war.

While underlining the fragility of the situation in Somalia, the High Commissioner encouraged countries in the region to work with UNHCR to find solutions to problems facing Somalia.

“Our appeal is to Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea to support Somalia refugees as they start a new life,” he said.

Guterres has proposed a phased approach, starting by assisting refugees who are spontaneously returning to Somalia.

“The next step would be a pilot project under which UNHRC will assist groups of refugees return home,” he said.

If repatriations are done voluntary and in a proper manner, the Commissioner said, this will be a positive factor for the development of Somalia.

Guterres however intimated that if refugees return home prematurely, they will contribute to destabilization of the fragile country.

He observed that Jubaland remains tense, adding that humanitarian agencies are unable to access certain areas.

He said stability in Somalia will enhance development in the region, adding that UNHRC is committed to ensuring that peace prevails in the region.

On the same note, UNHCR said the number of internally displaced persons in Somalia has increased.

“Internally displaced persons in Somalia are estimated at 1.1 million people,” said Guterres.

The UNHCR visited Mogadishu early this week and urged the locals to express solidarity ahead of the holy month of Ramadan.  The High Commissioner’s visit comes barely three weeks after the deadly June 19 attack on the UN compound.

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