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Repatriation looms for Somali refugees in Kenya

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Moulid Ali Hassan, a 35-year-old Somali refugee in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, does not want to return home, but prefers to be re-settled in Australia.

He says he worries he will be forced to return to Somalia since Kenya and Somalia have established a joint task force to repatriate more than 450,000 Somali refugees from Dadaab.

While some Somalis refugees have already returned home or are preparing to do so, those who have qualified for re-settlement in third countries hesitate to go back, he said.

Hassan has lived in Dadaab for more than 15 years and is waiting to finalise his papers for re-settlement to Australia.

"It is been a journey of imagination, as I have been applying for years. [Now that] my prayers are answered, the repatriation plan by Kenya and Somalia threatens to scuttle my dreams," Hassan told Sabahi. "I have had it rough in the camps and, to be honest, I do not think the conditions in Somalia are right."

Ali Hassan Ali, a 35-year-old refugee in the Ifo I camp in Dadaab, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already taken his family through the application process for being re-settled in the United States, including a pre-departure orientation.

"I have met the basic criteria -- including being one of the first refugees to arrive in the camps with my family," he told Sabahi. "I am psychologically prepared to go to the United States and not Somalia."

Most refugees who live in squalid conditions in the camps dream of a new life in a new country, he said. "No one wants to be repatriated to Somalia due to fear of war. Those who fail to make the cut are often stressed, drown in drug abuse or commit suicide in the camps," he said.

Fatima Hassan Ibrahim, a 39-year-old mother of four who has been living in the camp for 18 years, said she does not want to go home. She fled to Kenya in 1995 after her mother and brother were killed in Somalia's civil war.

In May 2011, her father, husband and brother returned to Somalia to see if the situation had improved. But all three were killed in February 2012 when they were caught in the crossfire between al-Shabaab and government forces in Mogadishu.

"Somalia is my motherland, but it took my family and I am not ready to go back. Another country will be fine with me for now," she told Sabahi, adding that her application for third country re-settlement is pending with the UNHCR.
Officials: Refugees need not worry

Every year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) facilitates the movement of thousands of refugees who have been accepted for third country re-settlement. This year, IOM predicts that it will help re-settle 10,000 East African refugees, having already re-settled 2,281 as of March.

The refugees' destinations include the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and Finland.

The Somali-Kenyan taskforce formed out of a June 5th meeting in Nairobi between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is tasked to establish guidelines to repatriate refugees in the Dadaab complex.

Kenya has pressed to repatriate Somali refugees to areas liberated from al-Shabaab and requested the international community to help that process, saying their large presence in Kenya destabilises the country. First Secretary at the Somali embassy in Nairobi Ali Mohammed Sheikh has also called for international solidarity during the repatriation of Somali refugees.

Emmanuel Nyabera, a spokesman for the UNHCR office in Nairobi, said refugees need not worry about the status of their pending applications. Repatriation will not affect refugees approved for third country re-settlement or who meet its requirements, he said.

"What the United Nations does is to try to look for amicable solutions, which include local integration, repatriation and re-settlement. In [all] cases it has to be a voluntary exercise," Nyabera told Sabahi.

To be re-settled in a third country, UN agencies must vigorously screen applicants to determine need. Priority goes to refugees who lived in camps for long periods, asylum seekers, and people with health problems that require specialised treatment abroad, Nyabera said.

The Somali-Kenyan taskforce's work will also be a foundation for further discussions at a refugee conference planned for August to come up with ways to properly re-settle or repatriate refugees.

"Kenya has played its part in hosting the Somali refugees at their hour of need, and we are grateful," said Somali Ambassador to Kenya Mohammed Ali Nur, adding that the conference will be a positive step. "We will be seeking modalities that are good for the refugees and the host [country]."


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