Kenya is attempting to repatriate more than half a million Somali refugees despite continued instability in Somalia, and in defiance of national and international legal obligations. The calls for repatriation gained momentum after a wave of attacks targeting churches, nightclubs and public service vehicles in Nairobi and the Somali-dominated North Eastern Province (NEP).
This reactionary and impetuous shift in policy has serious security and economic implications for both Kenya and Somalia. Violence and harassment against Somali refugees and Kenyan-Somalis have been on the rise since calls for repatriation started at the end of 2012. Mistrust between Kenyan security forces and the Somali community in the Eastleigh neighbourhood of Nairobi – commonly referred to as ‘Little Mogadishu’ – has also increased, depriving police of cooperation and information sharing.
The Somali government is not ready to accommodate almost 600,000 refugees. Leaders say refugees will be welcomed home and considered an asset but admit to being woefully unprepared to resettle them. Still, the Somali government is devising an ambitious plan to establish large camps inside Somalia, near the Kenyan border. It hopes to move hundreds of thousands of refugees to the new camps before the end of 2013. Not only is the implementation of this plan unrealistic, but it could also expose vulnerable refugees to dangerous conditions.
Many refugees indicate that they’re willing to return home if security conditions improve, but most lack the financial means to do so voluntarily. There is concern regarding the impact repatriation would have on already overcrowded Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps in southern Somalia, potentially compromising the fragile gains made in recent months.