Interview: UN refugee chief stresses voluntary return of Somali refugees in Kenya

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres emphasized on Friday the voluntary return of Somali refugees from Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.
Guterres spoke to Xinhua in an exclusive interview with Xinhua after paying a visit to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in northeastern Kenya.
The Kenyan government announced in April a decision to repatriate the refugees following the horrific attack at Garissa University College, where 148 people were killed and over 70 others injured on April 2.
Kenya said the refugee situation continues to pose security threats to Nairobi and the region, apart from a humanitarian crisis.
Guterres, who heads the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the most important part of his visit to Kenya was to establish with the Kenyan government a “very solid understanding” on the future of Somali refugees who are based in Kenya.
“That the return of Somali refugees to Somalia will be based on the voluntary repatriation in line with the tripartite agreement that was signed between Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR so as to ensure the safety and dignity of the refugees,” said Guterres, who arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday.
“This is an understanding that I have shared with the Somalia president as well as the president of the Jubaland region in Somalia that borders Kenya,” he noted.
The Dadaab refugee camps are now home to over 350,000 Somali refugees, 80 percent of whom are women and children.
He said UNHCR is committed to supporting the Kenyan government to boost security in the refugee camps and in Kenya, adding that he was shocked by the Garissa terror attack and fully understands the concern of the Kenyan government.
“We want to be part of the solution to Kenya’s security challenges,” he said.
Guterres added that an agreement has been reached to select eight districts in Somalia that are safe and correspond to the districts from which the majority of people in the camps came.
“We want to improve the living conditions so that the refugees can return,” said Guterres.
He stated that the UNHCR will partner with stakeholders to establish a plan with a portfolio of projects for schools and shelter to create conditions for refugees’ return to be attractive and sustainable.
He highlighted that international cooperation is necessary for the solution of serious refugee problems in “Somalia, South Sudan and now Burundi.”
Guterres also noted that China is becoming an increasingly important humanitarian and development actor in the world, acknowledging its efforts in helping maintain peace and stability in some areas.
According to him, there is space for cooperation “from the point of view of investments, loans and especially from the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”
The UN refugee agency says Kenya remains a very important country for UNHCR as it has been hosting refugees for more than 20 years.
Xinhua

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