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Reluctant Somali Refugees to Be Repatriated from Kenya Seek Resettlement in U. S., Europe

Monday, July 15, 2013

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More than 600,000 Somali refugees who have known Kenya as their home for two decades will be repatriated before the end of the year.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed says the government is formulating modalities of successfully repatriating more than 1 million refugees by August.

Mohamed says the East African nation will host a major international conference to discuss how to repatriate refugees and ensuring their safety once they are back home.

The planned Somalia conference which will be held in the second week of August will be co-hosted by the Kenyan and Somali governments, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and International Organization for Immigration (IOM) which has been invited to ensure the program is successful.

The Kenyan cabinet secretary revealed that some international organizations are mapping out safe places for the refugees to resettle, saying the exercise will be conducted in the most humane manner.

Mohammed said the organizations involved in the repatriation have already compiled documents and reports on the places of origin for the refugees, a half of whom he added crossed the border to Kenya in the last two years.

"I am delighted that about 50 percent of the refugees are willing to voluntarily return but we want to do in an orderly manner which upholds the dignity to our visitors," she told EU and Asian envoys recently.

But Mohamed's views were not welcomed by the Somali refugees who have been living in the refugee camp in northern Kenya since their childhood.

Investigations by Xinhua revealed that while some Somali refugees have already returned home or are preparing to do so, those who have qualified for resettlement are hesitant to go back.

Abdullahi Sheikh Moulid, a Somali refugee at the Dadaab refugee camp, does not want to return home, but prefers to be re-settled in Australia.

The 35-year-old Moulid sold Xinhua in an interview that he is worried because he will be forced to return to Somalia since Kenya and Somalia have established a joint task force to oversee the repatriation exercise

"I don't want to go to Somalia but instead prefer to go to Australia. There are still a lot of problems back home," Moulid told Xinhua in an interview on Sunday.

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

"It has been a journey of imagination, as I have been applying for new status for years. Now that my prayers have been answered, the repatriation plan by Kenya and Somalia threatens to scuttle my dreams," a worried Hassan told Xinhua news at the Ifo 2 refugee camp.

"I have had it rough in the camps and, to be honest, I do not think the conditions in Somalia are right for me and my family," he added.

Kenyan leaders have emphasized that it has no intention of interfering with the domestic affairs of Somalia, saying his government's only agenda is to support the establishment of administrative structures as well as institutions necessary for the stabilization and reconstruction of Somalia.

According to UNHCT, there were 1.02 million Somali refugees in the region as of June 30, mainly hosted in Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda, and over 1.1 million Somalis internally displaced within the Horn of Africa country, settled mainly in the south-central region.

Ali Hassan Ali, a refugee at the Dagahaley refugee camp, said the UNHCR had already taken his family through the application process for getting re-settled in the United States, including a pre-departure orientation.

"I have met the basic criteria, including being one of the first family, I am psychologically prepared to go to the U. S. and not Somalia," Ali told Xinhua.

Most refugees who live in squalid conditions in the camps dream of a new life in a new country and no one wants to be repatriated to Somalia due to fear of the long running war re-emerging.

"Those who fail to make the cut are often stressed leading them to drown themselves in drug abuse or even take to committing suicide," he added.

Fatima Hassan Ibrahim, a 42-year old mother of four who has been living in the camp for 18 years, said she does not want to go home.

Ibrahim, who fled to Kenya in 1995 after her mother and brother were killed in Somalia's civil war, said the Horn of Africa nation was still not stable for return.

In May 2011, her father, husband and brother returned to Somalia to see if the situation had improved, but all the three were killed in February 2012, when they were caught in the cross fire between Al-Qaida linked Al-Shabaab and government forces in the capital Mogadishu, she said.

"Somalia is my motherland, but I am not ready to go back. Another country will be fine with me for now," she told Xinhua, adding that her application for third country re-settlement is pending with the UNHCR.

Every year, the IOM facilitates the movement of thousands of refugees who have been accepted for third country re-settlement. This year IOM predicts its will help re-settle 10,000 East Africa refugees, having already re-settled 2,281 as of March.

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

Kenya, a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, currently hosts some 630,000 refugees, of whom more than half a million are from neighboring Somalia.

The UN refugee agency and other aid agencies working in Somalia have however cautioned the government repatriation of the refugees.

The agencies say such exercise betrays the spirit, places lives at risk and contravenes the principles of non-refoulement or not forced return that are contained in the country's new constitution, its Refugee Act and in international refugee law.

Kenya has pressed to repatriate Somali refugees to areas liberated from Al-Shabaab and requested the international community to help threat process, saying their large presence in Kenya destabilizes the country.

UNHCR Kenya spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera said that the refugees do not worry about the status of their pending applications.

"Repatriation will not affect refugees approved for third country re-settlement or who meets its requirement," he told Xinhua recently.

"What the United Nations does is to try to look for amicable solutions, which include local integration, repatriation and resettlement in all cases it has to be voluntary exercise," he said.

The Horn of Africa nation been torn asunder by factional fighting since 1991 but has recently made progress towards stability.

The conflict has left some 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 1 million more living in exile in neighboring countries, mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.

With parts of Somalia showing signs of increasing stability, countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the potential to encourage them to return, while some Somalis have spontaneously decided to move back to areas under government control.

Latest from the UN refugee agency shows that in the first six months of 2013, some 21,000 new Somali refugee arrivals were reported around the region compared to 78,000 in all of 2012 and 295,000 in 2011.

Most, almost 13,000 people, fled to Ethiopia, already host to some 240,000 Somali refugees. Yemen has received almost 6,000 new arrivals -- most having made the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden. As of May, Yemen was hosting 229,447 Somali refugees.

"At least 20,000 people have crossed into Somalia from countries of asylum this year," the UNHCR said, noting that 12,000 are estimated to be actual refugee returns -- the majority from Kenya, which as of May hosted 492,046 Somali refugees.

"Kenya has played its part in hosting the Somali refugees at their hour of need, and we are very great full," said Somali Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur.


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