Kenya said the planned repatriation of Somali refugees from Dadaab refugee camp and subsequent closure of the sprawling Dadaab camps by November is on course.
Regional government official Mohamud Saleh said that the verification exercise of the refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp is going as planned and will be concluded within the time frame.
Saleh dismissed claims that the government had pushed the closure month forward because of logistical problems.
“If there was any intention to push the date forward then it will be communicated by the cabinet secretary for internal security. As of now the exercise is on course and we expect it to be concluded in November as earlier announced,” he told journalists in Garissa on Friday.
The government official acknowledged that the absorption rate by UNHCR Somalia is slow because it lacked capacity to receive and accommodate the refugees going back.
“Because of the big number of refugees who have been cleared to return, UNHCR Somalia has not put enough infrastructures to place the refugees before they eventually resettle in their home country,” he said.
Kenya in May announced it will close the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab and plans to repatriate the more than 300,000 Somali refugees.
The East African nation has cited the influence of terror group Al-Shabaab as among the risks of keeping the camps open.
It was not yet clear when the refugee camp closures will begin, but the Kenyan government has already disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, which worked with humanitarian organisations for the welfare of the refugees.
UNHCR has developed a plan of action which outlines a process intended to reduce the population of Dadaab, currently 343,043 (326,611 Somalis), by 150,000 by the end of 2016.
Saleh said the number of refugees willing to return home is overwhelming and the government is in collaboration with UNHCR to ensure that the process goes on smoothly without hitches.
“Contrary to some media reports that majority of the refugees were not willing to return home, the number of those who are queuing to go back home is growing by the day,” he said.
His remarks came after the UNHCR said about 70,000 Somalia refugees are willing to return back to their home country by the end of the year.
UNHCR Kenya Assistant Representative in Charge of Protection Catherine Hamon Sharpe said that this figure represents approximately 25 percent of Somalia refugees in Kenya.
The regional coordinator reiterated that all concerns arising from the exercise are being addressed noting the entire process was being carried out in a humane manner.