Most Dadaab refugees unwilling to return to Somalia, MSF says

Thursday October 13 2016

Somali refugees at the Dadaab camp in Kenya. PHOTO | FILE |

More than 85 per cent of Somali refugees surveyed at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya do not want to return to their homeland, Doctors Without Borders said on Thursday.

The charity group, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says main concerns cited by respondents include fear of forced recruitment into armed groups, the threat of sexual violence and the absence of health care in Somalia.

MSF said its findings raise doubts about the voluntary nature of the repatriation programme being carried out by the Kenyan government and the United Nations refugee agency.

“It is unacceptable that, without any other solution being offered, thousands are essentially being pushed back into conflict and acute crisis — the very conditions they fled,” said Liesbeth Aelbrecht, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Kenya.

The results of MSF's survey of 838 heads of households conducted in July and August are at odds with UNHCR's recent report that says about a quarter of Somalis in Dadaab have expressed willingness to return home.

The UN based its finding on a “verification exercise” involving nearly all of the 340,000 individuals living in the refugee camp in July and August.


READ: UNHCR says 24,000 refugees voluntarily leave Dadaab camp for Somalia

The Kenyan government has threatened to close Dadaab by the end of next month.

Meeting that deadline would involve a mass repatriation of refugees back to Somalia, a country that some analysts say remains highly unstable.

“The UN itself has recently declared that five million are at risk of hunger inside Somalia,” said Bruno Jochum, general director of Doctors Without Borders.

“Sending back even more people to suffer is both inhumane and irresponsible,” he added.

As an alternative to emptying Dadaab, MSF suggests the establishment of smaller camps inside Kenya, increased resettlement of refugees in other countries and integration of camp residents into Kenyan communities.

The doctors charity is also calling for increased assistance for Kenya in its efforts to manage a refugee population that has grown significantly since the outbreak of fighting in Somalia in 1991.

“Kenya should not shoulder this burden alone,” Ms Aelbrecht said.

“Funding from donor countries needs to be directed to providing sustained assistance in the country of refuge, not to supporting what will essentially be a forced return to a warzone,” she added.