The United States plans to assist Kenya and the United Nations in their joint effort to repatriate 150,000 Somalis from the Dadaab refugee camps this year, a State Department official said on Wednesday.
As part of this additional assistance, the US intends to contribute to a forthcoming special UN appeal focused on the Dadaab repatriations, said Margaret McKelvey, director of the Africa aid office in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
The special UN appeal, expected to be launched shortly, will also “cover a number of programmes inside Kenya,” Ms McKelvey told reporters taking part in a teleconference.
Noting that Somalis have been fleeing to Kenya for 25 years, the US official said “everyone understands the sort of fatigue Kenya is feeling from hosting its refugees.”
The US itself may admit more Somali refugees this year in order to help reduce the population of Dadaab, Ms McKelvey said.
She further noted that other countries, which she did not name, may likewise agree to resettle some of the 325,000 Somalis currently living in the Dadaab complex.
The State Department official also suggested that Kenyan citizens who have registered as refugees or who have married Somali refugees should be given a “free choice” of whether to stay in Kenya or go to Somalia.
“Kenya has assured everyone that it will proceed in full compliance with its international obligations,” Ms McKelvey noted.
That means enabling repatriations to take place voluntarily and in a safe and dignified manner, she said.
But Ms McKelvey did not respond directly to a reporter’s question as to whether the US believes Kenya, Somalia and the UN can reach their announced target of tens of thousands of voluntary repatriations to Somalia within the next five months.
“We think there are opportunities for voluntary return, although the situation in Somalia is not necessarily good across the board,” she said.
newsinsieReturning refugees will be directed toward parts of Somalia that the UN deems “safe enough,” Ms McKelvey added.
“We still see Al-Shabaab controlling much of the countryside and access roads to towns which are themselves safe at the moment.”
That situation complicates efforts to deliver services to newly returned refugees, Ms McKelvey noted.
“Services not going to be immediately adequate and perhaps not equal to what they experienced as refugees,” she said.
But delivery of services will improve as larger numbers of refugees return to Somalia and as capacity and security are enhanced, Ms McKelvey added.
The US provided $55.5 million last year to help support Somalis and other refugees living in Kenya, she said.