UNHCR pledges support for repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya
11 November 2013, 16:53
Nairobi - The UN refugee agency UNHCR on Monday pledged to assist nearly half a million registered Somali refugees in Kenya who opt to return to their homeland under a new agreement inked in Nairobi the previous day.
The UNHCR's representative in Kenya, Raouf Mazou, also confirmed that the new procedures have been set for Somali refugees to return home voluntarily from Kenya.
"It's very important to underline that no one is forcing Somalis to leave Kenya. The government and people of Kenya have tirelessly provided protection and assistance to Somali refugees for two decades. The agreement we signed on Sunday does not mean Kenya is no longer willing to do so," he said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
Kenya hosts an estimated 610,000 refugees from the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region. Somali refugees in Kenya stood at 500,000 not long ago, but the number has increased due to turmoil and recurrent droughts in the Horn of Africa state.
Somalia has been in turmoil since 1991, but the war-torn nation is moving out of the shadow of instability with the backing of the African peacekeeping mission and the United Nations, although sporadic attacks are reported occasionally.
The conflict has left some 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 1 million more living in exile in neighboring countries, mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.
With parts of Somalia showing signs of increasing stability, countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the potential to encourage them to return, while some Somalis have spontaneously decided to move back to areas under government control.
The tripartite agreement which was signed by Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR establishes a legal framework and other support for Somali refugees in Kenya who might eventually wish to return to their homeland.