NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 19 – The government says that the process of repatriating Somali refugees from the Dadaab camp in North Eastern Kenya may take approximately two years.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed on Wednesday, Deputy President William Ruto indicated that measures, including provision of security from Al Shabaab militia, were being undertaken to ensure a smooth passage for the refugees.
He observed that between 80,000 and 100,000 refugees had already travelled to Somalia voluntarily and urged the Somali government to put infrastructure and social amenities in place to accommodate the populace.
“More refugees will voluntarily want to go back home. The tri-partite agreement between UNHCR, the government of Kenya and The Federal Government of Somalia will again provide additional momentum in facilitating the safe return of refugees to Somalia. We are looking at a process that is expected to take up to two years,” the DP stated.
“I once went to a place called Chalbi Desert in Kenya and I met a friend of mine who later became an MP for that area and he had gone to school in America. When I went to Chalbi Desert I was wondering why anyone would want to stay in the desert so I asked him what made him leave America to come back here after he had found a home,” he narrated when asked whether it was too soon to start sending the refugees home.
“He answered that East or West, including North and South, home is best. There is never a better time to go home. I think that is the commitment of the Kenyan government, Somalia government and UNHCR,” he said.
He further emphasised the need to go back home so as to make use of the opportunities in Somalia.
“As we liberate regions, we do not want to leave them empty otherwise those regions will be occupied by Al Shabaab and other groups. We want to ensure that we support the government in Somalia to set up the necessary structures so that people can go home,” he stated.
He indicated that additional troops from the African Union Mission in Somali will go a long way in providing security for those returning home.
“AMISOM recognises that we need to accelerate the rate at which we bring the remaining parts of Somalia under its control and eliminate Al Shabaab. The additional 4,400 troops that were approved by the United Nations is a commitment in that direction,” he said.
The Somali Prime Minister stated his government’s commitment to root out Al Shabaab influence by the end of this year and further provide a conducive environment for development.
“The plan is that we will have the Al Shabaab out from all these places by the end of 2014. At the end of this year, we wish that no distinct areas will be controlled by the Al Shabaab. They might continue disturbing people here and there but that will also be dealt with,” he said.
“In Somalia especially in Mogadishu, hotels are coming up; high-rises are being built, resorts and tourism are restarting, we do not have sharks so people can swim freely in the waters within our country.”
Currently, there are more than 500,000 registered Somali refugees in Kenya according to UNHCR, and many others are believed to be undocumented in Nairobi and other areas.
UNHCR has identified the Somali towns of Baidoa in Bay region, Luuq in Gedo and parts of Kismayu in Lower Jubba region as priority areas where it can assist refugees in voluntary returns.
The tripartite commission must identify opportunities to ensure refugees can return safely and live in relative peace, provide adequate resources for returnees to support themselves, and help to foster political stability in areas where refugees are seeking to return.