On Monday, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a release stating the agency had repatriated 74,141 Somali refugees from Kenya as at Nov. 15.
A total of 71,792 Somalis from northern Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp reportedly elected for voluntary repatriation on December 8, 2014. "As at Nov. 15, there were 18,140 refugees registered in our database willing to return to Somalia, with 12,874 being registered in 2017 alone," the UN agency said.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said the agency will continue to invest in housing, education and the overall quality of life of refugees. The UN official made the declaration during a visit to Kismayo, Somalia.
Some 4,949 non-Somali refugees were relocated to Kakuma refugee camp. "The relocation is currently suspended due to the limited absorption capacity and services in Kalobeyei," the agency's release detailed.
Approximately 32,478 refugees will return to Somalia in 2017 alone, the UNHCR said. About two million Somalis have been displaced; 1.1 million internally and another 900,000 regionally.
Grandi remarked that the UNHCR had programs in place to reintegrate Somalis who chose voluntary repatriation. One such initiative is a joint UNHCR-Mercy Corps project which provides homes, on government-issued land, to returnees.
“Refugees should be a force to rebuild the country when they decide to come back,” Grandi said, noting that agency, assisted over 100,000 over the past two years. “We see refugees not as a humanitarian problem, but as an asset into which we need to invest,” he added.
President of the State of Jubaland, Ahmed Mohamed Islam, highlighted the importance of the return of educated and trained refugees. “When you want to build a state, you need human resources. Those coming back can fill that gap,” he explained.
Grandi, from a newly erected school, commented: “The boys and girls around me are people that have grown up in a refugee camp. They are not refugees anymore. What a great result to see young people go from being refugees to being back in their country, contributing to their country.”
Grandi and Mogadishu Mayor Thabit Abdi Mohamed inaugurated the school, which is located near the site of the single deadliest attack in Somali history. “The best response to violence is education so what can be better than building a school,” the high commissioner said.
Drought originally forced over one million Somalis to flee their homes and move to other parts of the country or neighboring nations. And, though famine has been largely averted, one in two Somalis face food insecurity. But, about 19,000 refugees in the Dadaab cited security concerns as the major downside to repatriation.
Somalia’s Federal President, Mohamed Farmajo, told Grandi at a meeting on Saturday in Mogadishu, “We want our people back. This is their home,” adding that they need to exercise caution to ensure that returning refugees are not yet again internally displaced.
“People know how to be given fish, we need to teach them how to catch fish,” Farmajo said.