The Kenyan government’s decision in May to close the world’s largest refugee camp sent shockwaves through the humanitarian aid community. But the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has put out a new appeal to donors for additional funds to help relocate and reintegrate Somali refugees from the Dadaab refugee camp.
There are 343,043 refugees in Dadaab ― the majority are originally from Somalia, but refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya live there as well. The U.N. set up the camp in 1991 for those escaping Somalia’s civil war.
The UNHCR initially appealed for $369.4 million to address the humanitarian needs of about 1.1 million internally displaced Somalis and close to 1 million Somali refugees living in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. Now, it’s appealing for an additional $115.4 million to address, among other priorities, the needs of Somalis in Dadaab.
The new funds will go partly toward effectively moving some refugees back to Somalia and relocating others to another refugee camp in Kenya.
The UNHCR hopes to move about 50,000 Somalis to their homeland, but only those who have volunteered to go.
While many Somalis are reluctant to return to Somalia, the UNHCR is incentivizing refugees with benefits packages.
Their travel costs would be covered, and each Somali who goes back gets $200, regardless of family size, a move that might encourage large families to return, according to UNHCR. Each family would also get a stipend of the same amount to help cover basic needs.
If the UNHCR meets its appeal goal, it’s proposing supplying six months of food to returnees and $25 per child for education services.
UNHCR may also consider providing health insurance for returnees.
“UNHCR is committed to ensuring that all returns to Somalia are voluntary and carried out in dignity, safety and with the protection of refugees paramount at all times,” Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa bureau director, said in a statement.
But even some destitute refugees say those kinds of packages aren’t enough of a motivator to go back to the country they fled.
Part of the issue is that 20 years of conflict has left the country bereft of public services such as schools and healthcare, according to the Guardian.
A 20-year-old refugee from Somalia, who didn’t give his name, told CNN that his parents lost all of their land and property during the war. He said even giving $1,000 to start a new life in Somalia all over again wouldn’t suffice.
“I agree no one has to live in a refugee camp all their life,” he told CNN. “It’s not correct morally, but then if you’ve left your home 25 years ago, going back is like going back to a new place.”
In addition to taking some refugees back to Somalia, UNHCR also plans on relocating Somalis and non-Somalis to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which houses South Sudanese, Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian refugees, according to CNN.
The Kenyan government is intent on closing the Dadaab camp due to security challenges posed by militant terror group Al-Shabaab, but aid groups say there’s no established link between any terror activity and Dadaab.
The UNHCR’s goal is to reduce the population of Dadaab by 150,000 by the end of 2016.