The United Nations on Monday launched a “verification exercise” to determine how many residents of the Dadaab complex are actually Kenya citizens posing as Somali refugees.
“We are aware of Kenyans falsely registering as refugees in order to get free services and food,” UN refugee agency spokesman Duke Mwancha told the Nation.
The UN currently has no estimate of the size of this segment of Dadaab's population of 340,000.
But Mr Mwancha says his agency is aiming to specify within two months the number of Kenyans living in the camps under false pretences.
This effort to compile a “clean register” is part of a recent agreement involving the UN and the governments of Kenya and Somalia to facilitate the return of 150,000 Somalis to their homeland by the end of the year.
The three parties have also agreed that refugees from countries other than Somalia will be moved from Dadaab to the Kakuma camps.
About 16,000 refugees — mainly from Ethiopia — are expected to make that 1,200-kilometre journey from Garissa County to Turkana County.
Some Somalis have recently left Dadaab under circumstances that may not qualify as voluntary, says Ben Rawlence, author of a recently published book describing the lives of nine residents of the complex.
Contacts in Dadaab have informed him, Mr Rawlence relates, that “people are going now, apparently, because of threats and the prevailing atmosphere of hostility.”
The Kenyan government has pledged it will not violate its international obligations by forcing any refugees to leave the country.
None of the nine Somalis highlighted in Mr Rawlence's book, City of Thorns, have left Dadaab, he told the Nation.
“They're in the camps for a reason,” he said. “Somalia is not safe, especially not for women.”
Mr Mwancha said the UN has received no reports of refugees being forced back to Somalia from Dadaab.
The refugee agency spokesman added that he is not aware of what Mr Rawlence describes as “a desperate rush” by some Somalis in Dadaab to obtain false Kenya identity cards.
Mr Rawlence and other advocates for the refugees predict it will prove impossible to repatriate 150,000 Somalis by the end of the year without resorting to mass human rights violations.
“How are they going to get people onto buses who don't want to go?” Mr Rawlence asks in regard to Kenyan and UN authorities.
“The only way to essentially halve the population of Dadaab is by doing it illegally.”
The UN refugee agency spokesman notes, in turn, that the goal of 150,000 returnees this year is “just a prospective figure.”
While “it is in the interest of the government of Kenya to have as people as possible return to Somalia,” the target number set in a joint communique issued last month may not be reached, Mr Mwancha says.
The UN points out that the number of Somali refugees known to be living in Kenya has dropped in the past five years from 519,000 to 413,000.
The roughly 100,000 who have left Kenya since 2011 are “believed to have spontaneously returned to Somalia,” the UN says.
A total of 16,524 Somalis have been formally assisted by the UN in returning to Somalia from Dadaab during the past 18 months.
Of that total, 10,413 have gone to Somalia during the first six months of this year, Mr Mwancha reports.
But the full tally of returnees for 2016 is still likely to fall well short of the UN goal of 150,000 for this year.
Funding for accelerated repatriation of Somalis is also not close to meeting pledged amounts.
Donors said last year they would give $110 million to help expedite repatriation, but as of June only $7.2 million had been allocated.