Kenya will have to wait to reduce the number of refugees it hosts as its voluntary repatriation and closure of camps plan has run into challenges.
Lack of resources, insecurity in Somalia and opposition by human rights groups have forced Kenya to hold its horses.
In July, for example, only 3,248 refugees — out of 241,355 —took advantage of the voluntary repatriation programme. A total of 28,924 refugees have returned to Somalia this year.
The programme, which was launched in December 2014, is the result of the tripartite agreement between the governments of Somalia, Kenya and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The cumulative number of persons repatriated from Kenya to Somalia stands at 70,057. Currently there are 18,598 refugees willing to return to Somalia.
Before the voluntary repatriation programme, there were more than 270,000 refugees in Dadaab — a camp that was established in 1991.
Some refugees, who had voluntarily returned to Somalia, slipped back to Dadaab due to insecurity and lack of facilities in their home regions in Somalia.
These refugees had joined the programme believing the Kenya government would arbitrarily return them to Somalia without taking into account where they came from.
The Kenya government is also facing pressure from Western countries, especially the UK and Germany, to allow refugees to seek jobs and businesses to reduce the high numbers resorting to dangerous trips through the Mediterranean Sea in search of jobs in Europe.
Kenya had in March signed the Nairobi Declaration in which the five countries hosting the Somalia refugees resolved to initiate durable solutions for Somali refugees and reintegration of returnees in Somalia.
The summit directed Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti and Yemen, which are home to a total 900,000 Somalia refugees, to facilitate the free movement of refugees and their integration into national development, and access to services and jobs.
Mwenda Njoka, the spokesperson for Kenya’s Interior ministry, told The EastAfrican despite the country signing protocols regarding refugees, its primary responsibility is its citizens.
“We don’t want to see a situation where xenophobia could creep in like in some African countries, when Kenyan start feeling that their jobs are being taken up by foreigners.
However, Kenya agrees with the international community that the refugees should be less dependent on humanitarian assistance and that is why we have allowed Somalia refugees in Dadaab to operate businesses,” said Mr Njoka.
He added that the refugees should take advantage of the new Somalia government that has been calling for those in the diaspora with skills to go back home and help rebuild the country.
“Their skills are more needed in their country where three-quarters of the Cabinet has either trained or studied in Kenya, US, UK and Canada,” he said.
The government had threatened to close the camp by November last year, arguing that the Dadaab Refugee complex—that comprises five camps of Hagadera, Kambioos, Ifo, Ifo2 and Dagahaley— was a recruitment ground for Al Shabaab, which continues to terrorise Kenyan citizens, especially in north eastern.
It extended the closure to June this year but the National Commission on Human Rights went to court in February and obtained orders against the move.