The UN refugee agency said a total of 26,819 Somali refugees have in principle confirmed their intention to voluntarily return home and are waiting to be facilitated to return to the Horn of Africa nation.
The UNHCR said in its bi-monthly report released on Saturday that some 2,525 returnees were supported to voluntarily return to Somalia by flight and road convoys from Sept. 16-30.
"In total as of Sept. 30, 32,949 Somali refugees had returned home since December 8, 2014, when UNHCR started supporting voluntary return of Somali refugees in Kenya, out of which 26,848 were supported in 2016 alone," UNHCR said.
Kenya in collaboration with the UN refugee agency are working on a program that will ensure a smooth and voluntary repatriation of over 300,000 refugees living in five sites at the Dadaad refugee camp after Nairobi announced the closure of the camp.
Kenya, which hosted protracted negotiations that culminated in the formation of the transitional federal government of Somalia, says the refugee situation continues to pose security threats to Nairobi and the region apart from the humanitarian crisis.
According to the UNHCR, road convoys were suspended from Aug. 30, after the Jubbaland administration notified UNHCR Somalia about their decision not to receive any more returnees until integration processes inside Somalia are addressed.
"The road convoys still remain suspended and refugees are not currently travailing by road any more. Similarly, the flight departures to Mogadishu has been suspended on Sept. 25 because of security related issues in Mogadishu, but flight departures are expected to resume once the security context improves," UNHCR said.
The statement comes after international medical charity, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said a vast majority of refugees do not want to go back to Somalia and urged Kenya thus to consider alternatives to closing down the Dadaab camp.
Many refugees surveyed cited by the charity list their main concerns as fear of forced recruitment into armed groups and the threat of sexual violence.
Other concerns are the absence of health care in Somalia, the medical aid group said.
MSF said its findings raise doubts about the voluntary nature of the repatriation programme being carried out by the Kenyan government and the UNHCR.
"It is unacceptable that, without any other solution being offered, thousands are essentially being pushed back into conflict and acute crisis — the very conditions they fled," said Liesbeth Aelbrecht, the head of the MSF mission in Kenya.
According to the MSF report, 86 percent of surveyed refugees in Dagahaley do not want to go back to Somalia. Fears around insecurity were acute with nearly all — males and females — stating that the risk of sexual violence is high. MSF is therefore questioning the "voluntary" nature of the returns that the UNHCR is helping facilitate.
"The fears that the refugees tell us about are real. It is crucial that any return is voluntary, and refugees must have all necessary information about the services and conditions which will meet them in Somalia," said Liesbeth.