The UN refugee agency said Sunday it has so far repatriated 1,473 refugees from Kenya to Somalia under the current voluntary return pilot project, which kicked off late last year.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its biweekly update received in Nairobi that 199 individuals were repatriated in two convoys to Somalia on Feb. 7 and Feb. 10, adding that over 80 percent of the returnees are refugees who arrived in Kenya after 2010.
The first group of refugees travelled to Somalia from Dadaab refugee camps on Dec. 8, 2014, when the pilot project was launched. According to UNHCR, the refugees who have been living at the Dadaab complex, the world’s largest refugee settlement in northern Kenya, use prearranged bus transport.
So far, the agency said 13 convoys have departed since then with Kenyan police providing security to ensure a safe and secure journey, adding that most of the refugees have returned either to Baidoa or Kismayo in Somalia.
According to UNHCR, before their departure, the refugees underwent counseling by UNHCR and partners on conditions in Somalia, especially with regard to security.
Kenya hosts more than 600,000 refugees from 36 nationalities who flee conflicts from the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region.
Somali refugees in Kenya are estimated at 500,000 and the number has increased due to turmoil and recurrent droughts in the Horn of Africa nation.
The current repatriation process follows a tripartite agreement which was signed by Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR in 2013 that establishes a legal framework and other support for Somali refugees in Kenya who might be willing to return.