The United Nations is launching a $3 million (Sh300 million) “peacebuilding” initiative in Kenya and Somalia to facilitate the voluntary departure of 3,000 refugees from the Dadaab complex.
UN officials describe the 18-month-long pilot project as “unique” in its cross-border scope.
On the Somalia side, it will be focused on the Baidoa area, which lies about 250 kilometres west of Mogadishu.
Security is said to have improved in Baidoa following an Al-Shabaab attack 10 months ago that killed 30 civilians.
The new UN project, announced on Wednesday, could be extended and expanded to assist additional numbers of Somali refugees in returning to their homeland, UN officials added.
By providing skills training in Dadaab and investment in job creation in Baidoa, the effort seeks to overcome a major impediment to the mass return of refugees from Dadaab: lack of economic opportunities in Somalia.
Citing security concerns, the Kenyan government has been pushing for the closure of the Dadaab camps, which held 275,529 refugees as of December 1.
The UN said last week that so far this year it has assisted the return to Somalia of 32,058 Dadaab residents.
The pace of voluntary departures appears to be accelerating, with 1,743 refugees flown from Kenya to Somalia during the first half of this month.
Supported returns to Mogadishu, Baidoa and Kismayu are currently taking place exclusively by air, the UN refugee agency noted.
Transport by road is expected to resume next month once the rainy season ends.
Skills development in Dadaab through the peacebuilding pilot project “will be tailored to the beneficiaries, depending on areas of return (urban vs rural) in Baidoa,” John van Rosendaal, a spokesman for the UN Peacebuilding Fund, wrote in an email message on Thursday.
Business start-up grants, mentoring and enterprise training will be provided to those returning refugees who settle in the city of Baidoa, Mr van Rosendaal added.
For those returning to rural areas, the UN will offer “agricultural and livestock inputs” to help repatriated refugees establish livelihoods involving farming and herding, he said.
“To promote peaceful coexistence with the host community, vulnerable host community members will also be assisted,” Mr van Rosendaal noted.
The Dadaab-Baidoa pilot project is part of a larger UN peacebuilding effort that seeks to stabilise parts of Somalia described as “newly recovered” from Al-Shabaab.