Returns should be voluntary, supported

Saturday April 18 2015

Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Country Representative, Kenya. PHOTO | FILE

Deputy President William Ruto says that the government has given UNHCR three months to close the Dadaab refugee camp, failure to which it will relocate the refugees housed there. Has UNHCR received an official request?

The government’s decision was announced this past weekend. We have had contacts with a number of government officials. A number of concerns were raised in relation to this decision, including the security of the Dadaab camps and the need for a solution to the Somali crisis which has lasted for the past 24 years.

What is the right procedure to be followed?

For returns to be sustainable, they should be voluntary and adequately supported to ensure that those returning to their places of origin have access to social services. We, therefore, have to continue mobilising the international community to make sure that services are available in these places, as well as opportunities for a livelihood.

Has any country expelled refugees before?

Refoulement [forced return in French] has taken place in different parts of the world, but it is one of the most serious violations of international refugee law. A person fleeing danger and persecution needs asylum more than humanitarian assistance.


How far has the tripartite agreement signed in 2013 succeeded in voluntary repatriation?

The tripartite agreement has established a legal framework, which has given the opportunity for Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR to discuss ways of finding a durable solution to the plight of refugees.

A number of meetings and activities, such as the visit of a group of Dadaab refugees to Kismayu and of government officials to Dadaab, including the visit of the Prime Minister, have taken place as a result of this dialogue.

In December last year, we launched a pilot scheme to support people who seek to voluntarily repatriate to one of three relatively safe areas of Somalia, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayu. Efforts will continue to help create conditions for voluntary return of refugees in conditions of safety and dignity.

How many have voluntarily returned?

We are aware that many refugees have gone back to Somalia over the years to areas that they consider safe. Last year alone, more than 50,000 refugees went back home. Since December, we have helped more than 2,000 refugees to return to the same locations and the programme continues.
As the situation in various parts of South Central Somalia stabilises thanks to the Somali government and Amisom’s efforts, we will step up the voluntary return programme. The return movement will continue as the security and socio-economic conditions continue to improve.

I also believe that security ought to be co-ordinated at the regional level. Forcing Somali refugees to return would certainly negatively impact on countries in the region.  

Is Kenya likely to get international support in view of terror attacks if it goes ahead to expel refugees?

Kenya is one of the countries in the world which is providing asylum to the largest number of refugees and which has been the most active in supporting peace initiatives for the stability of the region. I am certain that this tradition will be maintained in the future.