The Governments of Kenya and Somalia and UNHCR have signed a tripartite agreement earlier this week which intends to provide for a legal framework for the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya and their reintegration in Somalia. According to UNHCR, there are over 500,000 Somali refugees currently in Kenya.
In the agreement, the three parties recognise that voluntary repatriation constitutes a durable solution for refugees, stressing that the attainment of this solution requires that refugees will voluntarily return to their country of origin in safety and dignity.
The agreement, which will be in force for the next three years, gives responsibility to Kenya to simplify immigration formalities and procedures and to facilitate exit from the country. The government of Somalia should put in place administrative, judicial and security measures in order to ensure the return and reintegration of refugees without fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution, discrimination, prosecution or any other punitive measures. UNHCR will also be responsible for verifying and ensuring the free and voluntary nature of the decisions made by refugees to repatriate and for ensuring that the repatriation is carried out in accordance with national and international law.
A Tripartite Commission is also being established with this agreement, which will be responsible for monitoring the return movement through regular visits to the camps, consultations with refugee leadership and visits to areas of return.
Raouf Mazou, UNHCR representative in Kenya stated that parts of the country are becoming safer which allows some refugees to go back home by themselves but underlined that in order to ensure the sustainability of the return of those who decide to voluntarily leave, it is crucial “to ensure the availability of basic services, such as health care, education, water and sanitation as well as support in livelihoods inside of Somalia”.
NGOs have welcomed the agreement but stressed that they hope that the three parties understand that the current context in Somalia is not conducive for the mass return of refugees. “Only few pockets of Somalia are safe for return”, stated the NGOs.
Annette Weber from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs stated that as “it is a voluntary return, it will be up to the Somali refugees to decide if they really want to go back” , warning that “my reading is that there are not many areas in Somalia which Somali nationals living outside the country consider safe. I think there is a lot of hope on the Kenyan side that they can somehow “push” people back, but I don’t see conditions in Somalia as being right to receive people”.