Nairobi: The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday it plans to repatriate 10,000 Somali refugees in Kenya who wish to return to Somalia in a pilot project, starting with the immediate support to around 400 people in December.
UNHCR Kenya representative Raouf Mazou said the first returns, which kicked off Monday, marked the beginning of a six-month pilot project, during which returning refugees will be provided support by the UN agency to safely return and re-establish their livelihoods in the areas they originated from, Xinhua reported.
"This initiative aims at supporting the spontaneous return movement we have observed since 2012, and at better targeting the assistance needed by those opting to return to their places of origin to rebuild their lives," Mazou said in a statement.
According to UNHCR, with the first Somali refugees crossing the border from Kenya to return home, new and significant steps are taken towards pioneering durable solutions. Three areas are identified for returns, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo in South Central Somalia.
According to the UN agency, factors slowing down the return of those who have volunteered to go back to Somalia include insecurity, lack of opportunities to earn a living and the uneasy relations between Kenya and Somalia over the recent crackdown on illegal foreigners.
The pilot project will only include Somali refugees in Kenya, who freely and voluntarily decide to return home after undergoing counseling by UNHCR and its partners on the prevailing conditions in Somalia, especially with regard to security.
UNHCR Somalia representative Alessandra Morelli said the Horn of Africa nation is far from being conducive to large scale returns, and those deciding to return and resume lives in their home country need to be aware of the fragile situation and conditions there.
Morelli said the UN agency has positioned itself in the three areas of potential return to monitor and support the Somalis who would decide to return.
"However, the decision to do so remains solely their own. This is in line with the tripartite agreement committing all parties to ensure that returns are voluntary," Morelli said.
The initiative is being carried out in the context of the tripartite agreement signed in November 2013 by Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR. The agreement governs the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in Kenya, and ensures that this takes place in conditions of safety and dignity.
The support package to returning refugees comprises assistance to secure safe transport, an unconditional cash grant, essential travel and hygiene kits for use during the journey home, tools, food and other basic needs assistance to support the sustainability of return and reintegration in Somalia.