New districts opened in Somalia for voluntary refugee return

Roughly 350 Somali refugees arrive to the border of Kenyan border town of Liboi, where they are greeted by the International Organization for Migration, about 35 miles from Dadaab camps, August 22, 2011. Most families fleeing Somalia arrive exhausted, hungry, and with little to no belongings after making sometimes a month-long journey on foot. Dadaab, with roughly 400,000 refugees, is the largest refugee camps in the world. The horn of Africa is suffering one of the worst droughts in years, displacing thousands, and killing others through severe malnutrition. In response to the increasing severity of the situation MSF is operating an emergency nutrition intervention in Dadaab.

Six new districts have been opened in southern Somalia to help enhance voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in Kenya, a tripartite commission formed to oversee the return said on Saturday.

Representatives of Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR said in a joint communique that they have also decided to extend the provision of return and reintegration assistance to Somali refugees to six additional districts in Somalia.

“The newly announced districts are Mogadishu, Afgoye, Balad, Belet Weyne, Jowhar, and Wanle Weyne. This is in addition to the existing areas of return Kismayo, Baidoa and Luuq,” says the communique released in Nairobi.

The tripartite meeting noted that as a result of the efforts made by AMISOM and Somalia government forces, additional areas are being made accessible to humanitarian and development assistance.

According to the communique, the refugees voluntarily returning to other parts of Somalia will also be provided with return assistance in Kenya and upon arrival in Somalia. This means that voluntary return support is available to all the 332,749 registered Somali nationals in Dadaab refugee camps.

Kenyan and Somali governments, including UNHCR, agreed in April to form a tripartite commission that will be charged with overseeing the repatriation of Somali refugees at the Dadaab camp.

The formation of the commission, which is provided for in the tripartite agreement signed in September 2013, is a result of a meeting with Somali Foreign Minister and UNHCR representative, among other stakeholders, in Nairobi in April.

Kenya argues that the Dadaab camp, the largest in the world and which is now 24 years old, should be closed as soon as possible because it harbours terrorist cells.

So far, only 2,060 refugees have voluntarily returned to Somalia through the tripartite agreement even as Kenya says that another 50,000 went back on their own.

According to the communique, a technical committee of the commission will meet on June 9 to prepare a detailed return and reintegration strategy, expected to be reviewed and finalized by the commission on June 30.

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