The United Nations refugee chief has completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he held successful meetings with the Presidents of both countries and discussed issues related to refugees and returnees, particularly regarding the hundreds of thousands of people in Dadaab camp.
“We reached a common understanding with the Presidents of Kenya and Somalia on three things,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres in Nairobi. “Firstly, the need to ensure return from Dadaab is voluntary and that it takes place in safety and dignity, and in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement; secondly, on cooperation to boost security in Dadaab; and thirdly, the expansion of additional areas for people to return to in Somalia.”
Mr. Guterres expressed deep appreciation to President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta for his “courage and wisdom” in handling the refugee situation, even as emotions in the country run high following the attack on Garissa University.
Shortly after that 2 April assault on the campus, for which Somali-based Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility and which reportedly left scores of people dead, the High Commissioner’s Office (UNHCR) urged Kenyan authorities to reconsider their decision to shut down within the next three months Dadaab refugee camp, which lies along Kenya’s border with Somalia.
Following the recent visit, which wrapped up on 9 May, UNHCR said Mr. Kenyatta was committed to the aim of making return to Somalia an attractive and sustainable option for those in Kenya, while Mr. Guterres said he would mobilize the international community to boost security in Dadaab, where nearly 350,000 people are living.
Mr. Guterres also met Somalia’s President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as well as Prime Minister Sharmarke, in Mogadishu where the possible future return of Somali refugees in Kenya was also discussed.
He also travelled to Kismayo, in south central Somalia, which is a key refugee return destination. There he met regional leader Ahmed Madobe and discussed scaling up the current voluntary return project and ensuring that returns are sustainable.
To enable people to return, investment needed to be scaled up to improve socio-economic conditions for refugees, displaced people and local communities. Mr. Guterres said he would mobilize the international community to improve access to shelter, education, health and other basic services as create realistic livelihood opportunities.
While in Kenya, the High Commissioner also visited Dadaab, camp where he met with local officials, refugees and host communities. He condemned the Garissa attack noting that the entire region has suffered the effects of terrorism and reiterated commitment to strengthen security in Dadaab.
“It is in the interests of the international community to support the Government of Kenya to protect its citizens and the refugees it has so generously received,” he said. “I’ve seen babies who have been born from parents who have been born in Dadaab. This is not how we want people to live.”
He noted that around 2,000 refugees had returned to Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo in Somalia with the support of UNHCR since the Tripartite Agreement and he said improvements in basic conditions would help to boost those numbers exponentially.
In the meantime, Mr. Guterres told refugees in Dadaab that he had received reassurance from the Kenyan Government that any future returns to Somalia would be fully voluntary and in line with the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement.
“UNHCR and the Governments of Kenya and Somalia will organize an International Conference of Solidarity, to raise the required funding to multiply areas inside Somalia where capacity to receive returnees will be boosted through a portfolio of projects,” he said.