DADAAB, KENYA —
Kenya has called on Somali refugees to return to their country after a series of security lapses blamed on al-Shabab militants. With pressure increasing, more Somalis are registering with the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, to be taken back.
Ibrahim Hussein visited the repatriation center at the UNHCR compound in Ifo camp. He said he’s heard on the radio that refugees must be sent back to Somalia within three months, and he came to discuss that process. He said he also wants to thank the U.N. and its staff for the assistance they gave him.
The father of seven came to Dadaab in 2011 at the height of Somalia's famine. Like tens of thousands of Somalis, he crossed vast distances in search of food, water and medicine.
Ready for repatriation
Five years later, Hussein is one of thousands of refugees who have registered with the UNHCR for repatriation, after Kenya asked the refugee agency to fast-track the process to send Somalis home within three months.
Hussein also said Kenya's insecurity, lack of jobs and lack of freedom to move are forcing him away from the camp.
The United Nations says three towns in Somalia are safe enough for refugees to return: Kismayo in Lower Juba Region, Luuq in the Gedo region, and Baidoa in the Bay region. The agency says refugees from other areas will be registered, but won't be repatriated to places perceived to be dangerous.
Hussein will be sent to Baidoa.
In the same camp, VOA met a group of women ready to go home after five years -- but they do not like the restrictions on where they can be sent.
Nimo Samatar is from Bula-Hawa in Gedo region. She said she was one of the first people to register for repatriation and she is asking the international community and the U.N. to allow her and her compatriots to live anywhere they choose in Somalia.
Despite being ready to leave the camps, many are fearful of what they face at home.
Khatra Ismail comes from Mogadishu and is now a women’s rights campaigner with the Kenya Red Cross in Dadaab. She said she is worried about armed men in Somalia.
She noted that she was called a few days earlier by al-Shabab militants who threatened her and told her to stop working on behalf of women or they will kill her. She also said she’s earned a lot of certificates related to her work, and if the militants found these papers it would be very dangerous for her.
UNHCR's repatriation assistant, Maawiya Issa, said the majority of people coming to their offices feel they have no choice but to go home given Kenya's promise to close the refugee camps.
"At the moment there are those who are expressing fear," said Issa. "They are saying, 'We want to go back,' reason being the three months directive. So when we ask them about the three months directive is there anything else, then they tell you no and the place is not safe, we cannot go back but we are still fearing that [three months directive]. So it’s not actually their decision now, not a voluntary decision, but based on three months directive."
According to the UNHCR, since December more than 2,000 refugees have returned to Somalia.
As Hussein, Samatar, Ismail and thousands of others wait for a journey home, they ponder an uncertain future with little to protect them.