Last month, the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agreeing in principle to begin working toward the return of the half-million Somali refugees living in Kenya—mostly in refugee camps—to their country of origin. This agreement has caused a great deal of anxiety among the Somali population, particularly those living in Kenya, as many people feel that it is premature to begin to repatriate people to a country that is still at war with itself and where even the most basic services and livelihood prospects are lacking.
It is important to consider the particular needs and interests of these long-term, “protracted” refugees as being distinct from those of newer arrivals. While the challenges of return will be considerable for everyone, they will likely be most daunting to those who have been living in exile for many years, including the second- and third-generation refugees who have no experience with, or memory of, living in Somalia. Many were born in the refugee camps or came there as very young children. For them, repatriation does not involve a return in any meaningful sense, but a move to a country that is theirs only in name, one that is unfamiliar and where security and economic opportunities are at best uncertain and at worst completely lacking.
Two Decades of Displacement