Somali refugees reluctant to return due to insecurity: UNHCR

The number of Somali refugees willing to relocate back home has decreased due to insecurity in some parts of the Horn of Africa nation, the UN refugee agency said on Thursday.

In its latest report released in Nairobi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the refugees living in northern Kenyan camp are particularly reluctant to return to areas where Ethiopian troops pulled out and which have been taken over by Al-Shabaab.

“No increase was noted in the number of refugees interested in the service provided by the Return Information Desks. Refugees expressed concerns over security in Somalia specifically naming incidents on the way and Ethiopian troops’ withdrawal from Xudul and its immediate takeover by Al-Shabaab,” the report said.

The UN refugee agency said the Somalis are also expecting more information on the assistance package that may be available in 2013 before formally approaching UNHCR.

“During the reporting period a notable increase in new arrivals in Ifo 2 was observed. The reasons that triggered the surge are not yet established, however, the few interviewed indicated that they arrived to join close relatives in the camp,” it said.

The development came after Ethiopian troops who crossed into Somalia in November 2011 pulled out of the town of Hudur, the capital of Bakool region on March 17 and the militants hours later swept into the town, their most important territorial victory for over a year.

The capture prompted euphoric celebrations, which included the beheading of an influential cleric in the town. However, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said it was prepared for an eventual Ethiopian troop withdrawal from areas in the south of the country.

Thousands of AU peacekeepers are deployed in Somalia to support the internationally recognized federal government to fight off the insurgents of the Al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabaab.

“We have in place contingent measures to ensure that areas in Bay and Bakool where AMISOM are co-located with Somali National Security Forces remain stable and secure in the event of further Ethiopian troop withdrawals,” said General Gutti, the AMISOM Force Commander on March 21.

The militant group has since took over couple of smaller towns in the southern Bakool region where small contingent of AMISOM peacekeepers are deployed along with Ethiopian troops who crossed into Somalia to drive Al-Shabaab insurgents from regions of Bay and Bakool along the two countries common frontier.

The UN refugee agency has been carrying out verification of refugees in the Dadaab refugee complex with at least 21,124 individuals having been verified since January.

“The verification exercise has by now counted 198,639 inhabitants. So far, Ifo and Ifo 2 have been completed and the exercise is currently being undertaken in Dagahaley,” UNHCR said.

The agency reported that some refugees who did not turn up for the verification exercise were returning to the camp.

“Some of the refugees interviewed mentioned that they had left the camp to either visit family or do crop farming at home in Somalia,” the report said.

“The verification exercise increased the number of cross-border movements, with Refugee Consortium Kenya (RCK) reporting some 700 registered refugees returning to Dadaab to be verified,” the report said.

According to UNHCR, about 12,000 refugees crossed the border back into Somalia in January and February, the majority from Kenya although conditions back home are not yet viable for large-scale returns.

“The numbers, however, do not indicate intentions and many refugees cross back and forth, sometimes to check on property or find seasonal work,” UNHCR said last month.

The UN said there has been a gradual increase in the number of international aid workers operating in southern Somalia, following the withdrawal of Al-Shabaab from key towns.

After decades of factional fighting, the Horn of Africa nation has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with a series of landmark steps that have helped bring an end to the country’s nine-year political transition period and the resulting security vacuum which rendered Somalia one of the most lawless states on the planet.

These steps included the adoption of a Provisional Constitution, the establishment of a new Parliament and the appointments of a new President and a new prime minister.


Xafiiska Wararka Midnimo,


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