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Most Somali refugees in Kenya fear return home

Somalia remains riven by war but some areas are more stable. Photo/FILE

Somalia remains riven by war but some areas are more stable. Photo/FILE

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 28 – The vast majority of Somali refugees in Kenya fear returning to their war-torn country, Doctors Without Borders said Thursday, warning aid must continue despite a recent deal for refugees to go home.

Despite living in often appalling conditions in the world’s biggest refugee complex of Dadaab — home to over 400,000 mainly Somali refugees — at least four out of five are too frightened to go back to Somalia, according to assessments by the medical aid agency MSF.

“Their reluctance to leave is despite poor living conditions in the camps,” MSF said in a statement, noting that nearly half of people it interviewed said they had no means of keeping their homes dry during the current rainy season, one in ten had no access to latrines, and a quarter said they did not feel safe.

Earlier this month Kenya, Somalia and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) signed a joint deal to back the voluntary repatriation of Somalis, which comes amid fears of a crackdown following a deadly attack by Somalia’s Shebab extremists on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September.

“No one chooses a life as a refugee, and most refugees struggle to get by on what the government and aid agencies provide,” MSF’s director of operations Jean-Clement Cabrol said in a statement.

“Any decision to return should be made willingly and gladly, and not be forced on them by a cut in aid.”

Somalia remains riven by war but some areas are more stable, with a 17,000-strong African Union force — including Kenyan troops — wresting a series of towns from the Shebab in recent years.

Meanwhile in Kenya, rights groups have accused police in the past of a brutal campaign against Somali refugees, following a string of grenade attacks or shootings inside Kenya blamed on supporters or members of the Shebab.

“Security and dignity must be ensured for all returnees,” Cabrol added. “The Somali government and its partners would need to guarantee that returnees have rights and receive assistance, while aid must continue to be provided in Kenya.”

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