In November 2013, Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR signed an agreement on the «voluntary» repatriation of Somali refugees, under which both countries and UNHCR will ensure that Somalis voluntarily return to safety and dignity. According to Human Rights Watch, the current experience of many Somali refugees in Dadaab stands in stark contrast to these commitments. In the agreement, the three parties recognize that voluntary repatriation is a lasting solution for refugees and stress that achieving this solution requires refugees to voluntarily return to their countries of origin with security and dignity. As a party to the 2013 «voluntary» return agreement, UNHCR has actively committed to facilitating the return of thousands of people from Dadaab to Somalia. UNHCR says it does not encourage repatriation, but will facilitate the repatriation of Somalis who freely choose to return home, a distinction it makes for the sustained return to places it does not consider safe for return for most refugees. The NGOs welcomed the agreement, but stressed that they hope that all three parties will understand that the current context in Somalia is not conducive to the mass return of refugees. «Few parts of Somalia are safe to return,» the NGOs said. The agreement, which will enter into force over the next three years, gives Kenya the responsibility to simplify immigration procedures and procedures and facilitate departure. The Somali government should take administrative, judicial and security measures to ensure the return and reintegration of refugees without fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution, discrimination, prosecution or other sanctions. UNHCR will also be responsible for reviewing the free and voluntary nature of refugee return decisions and ensuring that repatriation is in line with the provisions of national and international law. In addition, the agreement provides for the establishment of a tripartite commission to oversee repatriation through regular visits to the camps, consultations with refugee management and visits to return areas. Earlier this week, the governments of Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement to establish a legal framework for the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya and their reintegration into Somalia.
According to UNHCR, more than 500,000 Somali refugees are currently living in Kenya. Informed consent – a complete understanding of the conditions in the country to be returned – is the key to a voluntary decision to repatriate. Through partners of non-governmental organizations, UNHCR`s mission is to inform each returnee to the «Help desks» of the five Dadaab settlements in nine possible return areas in Somalia. Although UNHCR does not encourage repatriation, it has taken responsibility, in accordance with the tripartite agreement of November 2013, to ensure that refugees have access to accurate and objective information on the situation in Somalia. Human Rights Watch found, however, that information provided to refugees in Dadaab is generally superficial and outdated and sometimes misleading. The 2013 tripartite agreement contains detailed language that outlines UNHCR`s responsibilities for monitoring return and reintegration. For UNHCR to monitor the refugee repatriation situation and report its findings to refugees in Kenya, who are considering returning them, UNHCR must have a significant presence in Somalia. This article was originally published in the ECRE Weekly newsletter of November 15, 2013 You can subscribe to the weekly here. No one said that food and security were guaranteed, but they just asked if I was willing to go back, and of course, what can I say, but yes.