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UNHCR steps up repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency said on Friday that it has repatriated some 52,591 Somali refugees in Kenya since the return exercise begun in December 2014.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its bi-weekly Update said out of the figure, some 13,277 were supported in 2017 alone.

“Road convoys were organized from Dadaab to Dhobley respectively on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays,” the UN refugee agency said.

It added that flights to Mogadishu have resumed on Feb. 27 after a long suspension due to security restrictions in Mogadishu since December 2016.

The move comes after President Uhuru Kenyatta while meeting the UN Chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said Dadaab refugee camp will be closed.

Kenyatta insisted that the closure is not only good for Kenya in the fight against terror but for the Somali refugees who he said need to replant their roots back home in the interest of rebuilding their nation and restoring their dignity.

“Our policy has been clear for some time, the events that led to the establishment of Dadaab are terribly tragic and the best response to that tragedy is to help refugees to return and rebuild their nation and that is Kenya’s policy and our efforts to hasten the repatriation and resettlement of refugees,” Kenyatta said.

His comments came after the High Court in Nairobi last week ruled that the planned repatriation of refugees would be unconstitutional, saying government officials had no powers to order closure of the camp, despite claims that there were serious security, environmental and economic concerns.

Kenya is expected to host an extraordinary summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on March 25 to deal with the refugee issue.

The UNHCR said its Monthly Cross Border Coordination Meeting on voluntary repatriation to Somalia held on Feb. 28 and attended by representatives from Government of Kenya, Government of Somalia, UNHCR Kenya and Somalia resolved to step up repatriation despite looming famine in Somalia.

“Participants deliberated on the drought situation and the looming famine in Somalia and its impact on voluntary repatriation. It was agreed that voluntary repatriation from Kenya to Somalia will continue, while the drought situation will be closely monitored,” it said. 

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