The United Nations refugee agency on Friday defended Kenya over allegations that its authorities are pressuring Somalis to leave the Dadaab camp and return to their homeland.
Voice of America (VOA), a US government-funded news service, on Thursday quoted a UN representative in Dadaab saying that some refugees are returning to Somalia out of fear.
“Families we have interviewed and many of those who filled the repatriation forms have shown that they are returning because of threatening rhetoric by Kenyan regional security officials who recently visited the camp,” Dadaab-based UN official Mohamed Mahad Gurhan told VOA.
But a spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Nairobi insisted in an interview on Friday that Somali in Dadaab are not being coerced into leaving the camps.
“Those claims are not accurate. We have not seen this. In fact, the Kenyan government has been working more closely with us,” said spokesman Duke Mwencha.
Forced repatriation of refugees would violate international agreements that Kenya has pledged to respect.
Mr Mwencha said a total of 19,346 Somalis have voluntarily returned to their homeland from Dadaab so far this year.
He said they are carrying out a verification process after it emerged that some Kenyan citizens have been living in the camp pretending to be refugees.
The UN reported last month that 42,000 Kenyans had been found to be posing as refugees in Dadaab.
To induce more Somalis to return to their homeland, the UN has increased the amount of stipends it pays upon departure from Kenya and upon arrival at designated destinations in Somalia.
Each refugee had previously been given $150 (Sh15,000) when leaving Kenya and the same amount after reaching Somalia. Both sums have been increased to $200 (Sh20,000), Mr Mwencha said.
The UN is also providing returnees with three months of food rations and is promising that their children will be able to attend schools for at least six months, he added.