By KEVIN J. KELLEY
Nearly half of recently surveyed Somali residents of the Dadaab refugee complex say they have no intention of returning to their homeland due to concerns about violence, drought and lack of services.
Their stated determination to remain in Dadaab until conditions dramatically improve in Somalia appears to put much of the camps’ population on a collision course with the Kenyan government, which plans to close Dadaab by the end of August.
The number of residents in the complex has increased in recent months despite a United Nations-run voluntary repatriation programme.
Nearly 80,000 Somalis have returned home over the past five years through that initiative.
But the UN programme appears to be faltering.
Only 110 Somalis were assisted in returning home during the first two months of this year.
Moreover, at least 2,500 Somalis have come back to Dadaab after being repatriated through the UN programme.
Dadaab’s total population stood at 210,038 at the end of February, according to the UN refugee agency, which administers the camps.
A head count in September 2018 had put the total at about 10,000 fewer residents.
But both those sets of numbers are still far smaller than the peak population of 464,500 reached in 2011 — two decades after Dadaab was founded.
Thousands of Somalis have left Dadaab over the years without taking advantage of the UN’s repatriation assistance.
Views of Somalis currently living in the camps were gauged in a survey newly released by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Along with a UN-related organisation known as Reach, the council interviewed 1,370 Somalis in Dadaab and along the border with Kenya last November.
In addition to the 46 percent of refugees who stated flatly that they will not return to Somalia, 26 percent of respondents said they would go back only if certain conditions were met, including stability in Somalia and availability of opportunities to earn a living.
Only six percent told interviewers they were certain to return to Somalia within the next six months.
“With continued conflict, instability and drought causing new displacement in Somalia, and reduced humanitarian funding in Dadaab, there is a need to strengthen the knowledge of future return intentions and movement patterns of the refugee population in Dadaab and along the Kenya-Somalia border,” the Norwegian council said.
Donor nations are lagging in their funding for Dadaab’s operations.
The UN refugee agency said on Friday that only 12 percent of a required total of $170 million in donations for 2019 has so far been provided.
In keeping with the anti-immigrant views prevalent in the US and much of Europe, rich countries are also doing little to resettle Dadaab refugees.
Interviews that could potentially lead to resettlement were conducted with 78 Dadaab residents in recent months on behalf of the UK, Sweden and Canada, the UN notes.
The Trump administration has prohibited Somalis from emigrating to the United States.
In an internal UN document recently leaked to the French Press Agency, the Kenyan government had indicated in February that it wanted to close Dadaab within six months.
The government asked the UN refugee agency to therefore “expedite relocation of the refugees and asylum-seekers residing therein.”
Disclosure of Kenya’s intentions touched off a firestorm of protest from human rights groups and refugee advocates.
A similar round of criticisms greeted an announcement by Kenyan authorities three years ago that they planned to close Dadaab on the grounds that Al-Shabaab allegedly operates in the camps.
That earlier threat was lifted when the Kenyan High Court ruled in 2017 that closure of Dadaab would violate both national and international law. The court’s ruling remains in effect.
Source: Daily Nation