NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Fewer than one in a hundred Somali refugees living in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab in northern Kenya, are interested in returning home, despite a push for them to do so, the United Nations said.
Half a million Somali refugees living in Kenya are due to return home over the next three years after the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) signed an agreement with the governments of both countries on Nov. 10.
Somali refugees number some 1.1 million, the third largest refugee population after those who have fled Afghanistan and Syria. About half of the displaced from Somalia live in squalid, overcrowded camps in Kenya’s arid north.
Only 0.7 percent of Somali refugees, or 2,500 people, expressed an interest in returning home by registering at UNHCR help desks within Dadaab, the U.N. said.
“Main reasons for return include: family re-unification, improved security, opportunities for self-employment and secure employment in areas of return,” the U.N. said.
Dadaab hosts some 353,000 Somali refugees. Around 30,000 returned voluntarily from Kenya to Somalia in 2013, the U.N. said.
UNHCR has identified Kismayo, Luuq and Baidoa as priority areas in Somalia for relatively safe return. The three areas were formerly controlled by the Islamist militant group al Shabaab but are now are under the control of the Somali National Army and African Union troops.
Rights groups say that Somalis are being pushed out of Kenya because of harassment and insecurity, rather than attracted home by improved conditions.
Somalis have faced an increasingly hostile environment in Kenya following a string of attacks by al Shabaab on Kenyan soil, including a deadly assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September.
The Kenyan police have intensified their focus on security in Dadaab in recent months, UNHCR said in its latest Dadaab update.
It met with the head of the region’s Police Anti-Terror Unit “to highlight concerns over increased incidences of arrest of over 100 refugees and asylum seekers in the camps since January 2014”.
"Buses transporting persons of concern [UNHCR’s term for refugees, asylum seekers and others whom it protects] from the border between Kenya and Somalia are now more frequently intercepted," it said.
"Also, swoops are conducted to arrest mainly undocumented asylum seekers."
The government suspended registration of refugees and asylum seekers in Dadaab last year, leaving undocumented new arrivals vulnerable to harassment.
UNHCR is carrying out a survey of Somali refugees in Dadaab to find out whether they intend to return home voluntarily, their concerns about security and livelihood opportunities in Somalia and their knowledge about conditions there.
Dadaab is home to 370,000 refugees, from Somalia and other neighbours like Ethiopia and South Sudan, down from 444,000 one year ago due to a population verification exercise, as well as spontaneous returns and a small number of people being resettled in third countries.