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Somali refugees in Kenya

November 11, 2013

Somali refugees in Kenya should only return home voluntarily. That warning from the UN refugee agency came one day after it had signed a deal with Kenya and Somalia on the repatriation of half a million people.

A Somali refugee woman holding a bag of food aid walks past those waiting at the entrance to the registration area of the IFO refugee camp which makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement on July 24, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya. The refugee camp at Dadaab, located close to the Kenyan border with Somalia, was originally designed in the early 1990s to accommodate 90,000 people but the UN estimates over 4 times as many reside there. The ongoing civil war in Somalia and the worst drought to affect the Horn of Africa in six decades has resulted in an estimated 12 million people whose lives are threatened. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

DW: Are conditions favorable for the peaceful return of refugees from Kenya to Somalia?

Annette Weber: It is a voluntary return, it will be up to the Somali refugees to decide if they really want to go back. My reading is that there are not many areas in Somalia which Somali nationals living outside the country consider safe. I think there is a lot of hope on the Kenyan side that they can somehow "push" people back, but I don't see conditions in Somalia as being right to receive people.

So this is not a voluntary repatriation but a forced repatriation?

This is where one has to follow the process very closely – it is a process facilitated by the UNHCR (UN refugee agency). It is also part of their responsibility. There is a repatriation commission – the repatriation shall take place over the next three years. People shall be accompanied during repatriation and it should be voluntary. So if we stick to this this, only people who want to return will be facilitated. I don't think anybody has a problem with this. You don't actually need an agreement because people can always return to their home country. It could, however, be risky if it turns from a voluntary repatriation to a forced one.

Portraitfoto von Dr. Annette Weber, Leiterin der Forschungsgruppe Naher/ Mittlerer Osten und Afrika der Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) - Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit, Berlin; Copyright: SWP***Pressebild nur für die aktuelle, themengebundene Berichterstattung
Annette Weber of the German Institute for International and Security AffairsImage: SWP

Kenya claims that the influx and the number of refugees poses a security risk, or challenge, to the country. How would this repatriation of refugees improve Kenyan security?

We all know that the influx of refugees, the presence of Somali refugees in Kenya, is nothing new. The majority of refugees from Dadaab camp, or in Kakuma camp, which is way older, are vulnerable refugees, so I am not too sure where the link to the security threat comes in. You'll remember that back in December 2012 the Kenyan government issued a directive that every Somalia refugee should be moved to a camp. That was contested, there was opposition, and basically the Kenyans had to withdraw this directive, saying it was arbitrary and it could not be used. To me, it sounds very political to argue that these people, the vulnerable refugees in the camps, are now a security threat.

Annette Weber heads the research group on the Middle East and Africa at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

Interviewer: Chrispin Mwakideu