Meeting residents of the world’s largest camp for Somali refugees – sprawling Dadaab, located in north-eastern Kenya – the top United Nations official for Somalia expressed his solidarity with their situation and highlighted the gradual progress made in their home country.
“In my opinion – as the mother of a family that is about to return just told me – things are gradually getting better in Somalia,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, said Thursday at the end of his visit to the refugee complex.
“There is now a stronger State, a federal structure, there are big efforts to try and improve security – yes, Al-Shabaab remains a potent threat – but economic activity is picking up and things are, in a non-linear way, getting better,” he added.
He stressed that returns are voluntary, but sometimes the news emphasizes the negative, including stories about violence and drought.
Dadaab currently has a population of 226,472 registered refugees and asylum seekers. Somalis account for some 96 per cent of the residents of the four camps that make up the complex.
The first camp was established in 1991, when refugees fleeing the civil war in Somalia started to cross the border into neighbouring Kenya. A second influx occurred in 2011, when some 130,000 refugees arrived, fleeing drought and famine in southern Somalia.
While more than 80 per cent of the people who have returned to Somalia are from that second group, Mr. Keating said that some have been at the camp for 27 years, some of them second- and even third-generation refugees.