UNHCR head due in Kenya to plan repatriation of Somali refugees

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The UN refugee agency head is due in Kenya on Tuesday to discuss government plans on voluntary repatriation of more than 350,000 Somali refugees living in camps in the country’s northeast region.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, will be visiting Kenya from May 5 to 8 where he will hold meetings with government officials and donor community, focusing on refugee affairs.

“Top on the agenda will be discussions with the government on voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees and how to ensure that security is maintained in refugee camps,” UNHCR Kenya said in a statement issued in Nairobi Monday.

Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement in 2013 with a lifespan of three years to voluntarily repatriate the Somali refugees.

Kenya has for many years hosted tens of thousands of Somali refugees, fleeing fighting from central and southern Somalia whose lives were at substantial risk that requires international protection.

While in Kenya, Guterres who will be accompanied by the Director of Africa Bureau, Valentine Tapsoba, will hold meetings with high level government officials, including President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“He will hold discussions with the donor community on resource mobilization to improve the living conditions in Somalia and support to the refugee hosting communities in Kenya. He will also be meeting UN officials and humanitarian workers,” said the statement.

Guterres will also visit Dadaab refugee camp on Friday to assess the situation in the camps and meet with refugee representatives.

“He will be briefed on the process of voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees. On Thursday, the High Commissioner will travel to Somalia to discuss durable solutions for Somalia refugees and efforts that should be made to ensure that Somalia is ready for sustained return of refugees,” the statement said.

The UN refugee agency said Kenya remains a very important country for UNHCR as it has been hosting refugees for more than 20 years.

UNHCR also appreciates the fact that Tripartite Agreement has been signed with Kenyan and the Somali government, which provides a legal framework that will guide the repatriation of Somali refugees when it starts.

Kenya, which hosted protracted negotiations that culminated in the formation of the transitional federal government of Somalia, said the refugee situation continues to pose security threats to Nairobi and the region apart from the humanitarian crisis.

The government last month announced its decision to repatriate the refugees following the horrific attack at Garissa University College where 148 people were killed on April 2.

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