Nairobi: Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto on Sunday said that the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in Kenya could take three years to complete.
Ruto told journalists in Nairobi that already 80,000 refugees have left camps in Kenya and headed back to Somalia.
“Under the framework signed between Kenya, Somalia and the United Nations Refugee Agency, we estimate that the repatriation process could take up to three years,” Ruto said when Kenya, Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees signed a tripartite agreement, which governs the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Somali refugees who are based in Kenya.
He said the deal establishes a Tripartite Commission to draft an operational plan to guide the process.
Ruto said that Kenya presently hosts 610,000 documented refugees, out of which 520,000 are Somali living in designated refugee camps and various urban areas around the country.
“It is estimated that another 500,000 undocumented refugees reside in Kenya as well,” the deputy president said.
“We are confident that many would like to return home so that they can make a meaningful contribution to Somalia,” he said.
The Deputy President said that the agreement is of historic significance for the entire Horn of Africa region, and, especially Somalia.
“It indicates that Somalia is now on a clear path to recovery and stability,” he said.
Ruto added that Kenya is fully committed to the restoration of Somalia.
“Its citizens are our very own brothers and sisters who deserve a tranquil home to go to, settle and prosper in,” he said.
According to Ruto, the sheer magnitude of documented and undocumented refugees has created an unprecedented security challenge for Kenya.
“Unfortunately, these challenges include terrorism, banditry as well as common criminals taking improper advantage of their refugee status,” he said.
He noted that elements of the refugee population have also provided a conduit for the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Kenya.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed said that Kenya has sustained a disproportionate share of the Somali Refugee crisis.
“The government has found itself straining financially as it sacrifices to raise the budget required to keep the camps secure and the refugees catered for,” she said.
“In spite of this, we have remained excellent neighbors and hosts of our brothers and sisters from Somalia,” she added.
“We have fully assumed our international obligations with regard to the hosting and protection of refugees,” she said.
The foreign Affairs cabinet secretary said that Somalia is firmly in a post-conflict phase and the world has given its strongest indications ever that it will support its reconstruction.
Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of foreign Affairs Fawzia Adam said that Somalia recognizes the huge financial burden that Kenya has shouldered as a result of hosting the refugees.
“We will therefore assist the refugees who return to Somalia so that they take part in nation building,” she said.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary said that the pact is the culmination of efforts to stabilize Somalia.
“It is a testimony of the improved political, socio-economic and security situation in the country,” he said.
UNHCR representative in Kenya Raouf Mazou said his organization will lead the way in mobilizing resources to ensure the repatriation of refuges is successful.
Mazou said that the international community is looking for a durable solution to the Somali refugee problem.
“For the past two decades Kenya has provided protection to the refugees and so the rest of world should join hands and help Somalia to reconstruct,” he said.
Mazou said that there are approximately 1 million Somali refugees in Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda.
United Nations Office in Nairobi Director General Sahele-Work Zewde said that the tripartite agreement paves the way for similar agreements with countries hosting Somali refuges.
“There is need for additional resources to ensure that Somali state is fully restored so that the returnees can find a conducive environment to sustain live hoods,” he said.
Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku said that there has been an increase in incidents of fraudulent acquisition of Kenyan identification documents owing to the demand within the refugee population.
Ministry of Interior Commissioner of Refugees Badu Katelo said the largest refugee camp in Kenya is the Dadaab Refugee Complex in northeast Kenya.
“It was created in 1991 and designed to hold a maximum of 90, 000 people but now holds more than five times the figure,” he said.
He said at least 100,000 of the refugees are unemployed and therefore vulnerable to join terror gangs.