NAIROBI (Xinhua) --
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on Saturday denied
allegations by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch that the agency
and the Kenyan government were harassing and intimidating Somali
refugees in Kenya to let them return home.
Representative in Kenya, Raouf Mazou, said in a statement that
the agency was working closely with Kenya to ensure that Somali
refugees’ rights were upheld and that solutions were found to
enable them to live in peace and security, including voluntary
repatriation in conditions of safety and dignity.
The UNHCR and Kenya are repatriating Somali refugees living
in northern Kenya’s Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp
currently harboring more than 300,000 Somalis, as Kenya said it
would close the camp in November, citing mainly security
Dadaab was set up over 20 years ago to house Somalis fleeing
The Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Kenya was not
giving the Somalis a real choice between being repatriated or
staying, and that Kenya’s repatriation program does not meet
international standards for voluntary return of refugees.
The rights group said refugees described intimidation by the
Kenyan government, silence over alternative options that would
allow them to remain in Kenya, and inadequate information on
conditions in Somalia.
It said that many refugees living in Kenya’s Dadaab camp say
they have agreed to return home because they feared Kenya will
force them out if they stay. It also accused the UNHCR of not
giving the refugees accurate information about security
conditions in Somalia.
In response, the UNHCR said in its statement: "Central to any
refugee return process is the principle of voluntariness. In all
of our engagements with government officials, refugees and other
stakeholders, we have consistently stressed that repatriation
must be voluntary and cannot, therefore, be time-bound."
The statement says the UNHCR is committed to ensuring that
all Somalia refugees receive adequate information about
conditions in their country of origin and are able to make an
informed decision regarding return.
"We regularly meet with refugees, and broadcast radio
messages in English and Somali, emphasizing that returns must be
voluntary and based on an informed decision," the statement
"We are also strengthening our Return Help Desks in Dadaab
and Kakuma (another refugee camp in Kenya), working closely with
colleagues and partners in Somalia to provide the most
up-to-date information," it added.
The statement also said the Somalis returning home were
receiving the necessary support, including financial assistance
and basic relief items to facilitate.
The UNHCR says that prior to Kenya’s decision to close the
Dadaab camp, several thousand refugees had registered their
intention to return, many of whom have since voluntarily gone
back to Somalia.
"Over the past five years, the Somali refugee population in
Dadaab has reduced by some 160,000 individuals," the statement
It also said the UNHCR recognizes the challenges that Kenya
has expressed with regard to the Somali refugee situation in the
country—"one of the most protracted in the world".
Kenya, UNHCR and Somalia have laid down plans to repatriate
about 150,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab by the end of 2016.