No timetable for refugees’ return to unstable Somalia, UN Says

Somali refugees at Ifo-extension, situated in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. FILE PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP



Dire and dangerous conditions in Somalia do not permit a foreseeable return of large numbers of refugees from Kenya, a United Nations aid official said on Friday.

“It is not yet possible to think of any time frame for large-scale return of the refugees,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Philippe Lazzarini said at a press briefing in New York.

Aid providers already face enormous challenges in meeting the needs of one million internally displaced Somalis and two million more inside the country who require humanitarian assistance, Mr Lazzarini added.

Al-Shabaab killed four Unicef workers in northern Somalia three weeks ago, he noted.

Sending some 500,000 refugees back to Somalia from Dadaab in these circumstances would impede efforts to achieve peace and stability in the country, Mr Lazzarini said.


Kenyan leaders had threatened last month to close Dadaab by July. But the government eased its stance following objections from the UN and the United States.

Comments last week by a senior US State Department official served to highlight the precarious military and political situation in Somalia.

Speaking to reporters in Nairobi on May 4 following Secretary of State John Kerry’s surprise visit to Somalia, the official said central Mogadishu was judged too unsafe to allow the top US diplomat to venture beyond the heavily fortified airport on the outskirts of the capital.

“The last thing we need is something to happen when the secretary is on the ground,” said the US official who spoke on condition of remaining anonymous. “And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him … off the grounds of the airport.”

The official also offered a sceptical appraisal of the Somali government’s ability to organise full-on national elections next year. The scheduled voting would be carried out in accordance with a “Vision 2016” plan for establishing representative rule in the country.

“The hope was that they would have elections by 2016, but I think we have to be realistic,” the official said. “This is not going to be a one man, one vote election as we would have hoped it to be.”

The US is pushing the Somali government to hold “some form of election or selection that is different from what they’ve done before,” the official added. Rather than again hand-picking representatives, Somali authorities should involve local communities in the process, the official said.

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud subsequently insisted that “free and fair elections will take place in the country, and this is the reality on the ground.”

His government does not intend to delay the polling, President Mohamoud added in a May 6 speech on state television.

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