World Bulletin/News Desk
Some 100 Somali refugees living in Kenya became the first to be repatriated back to the war-torn country after more than two decades of civil war.
"They are now on their way home," UNHCR Kenya spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera told The Anadolu Agency on Monday.
"It's the first ever group to return home," he said. "Most important is to note that they have returned home voluntarily."
A total of 10,000 Somali refugees living at the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya are expected to be repatriated within six months.
The move comes following an agreement signed by the UNHCR, Kenya and Somalia in November 2013 to ensure that the repatriations are voluntary.
"This is a well-organized exercise that begins with the registration of volunteers in Dadaab," Nyabera explained. "Volunteers will then undergo counseling."
Kenya is home to more than 460,000 Somali refugees who since 1991 have fled the troubled Horn of Africa country.
"Even after they settle in Somalia, the UNHCR will still continue to give them assistance," said Nyabera.
Areas of Somalia identified as safe for returnees are Luq, Baidoa and Kismayo, all of which have been liberated from Somalia's Al-Shabaab militant group in recent years.
"Somalia is far from being conducive to large-scale returns; those deciding to return and resume lives in their home country need to be aware of the fragile situation and conditions there," Alessandra Morelli, the UNHCR's representative in Somalia, said in a statement following the return of the first batch of refugees.
"The UNHCR has positioned itself in the three areas of potential return to monitor and support the Somalis who decide to return," she said.
"However, the decision to do so [repatriate] remains solely their own," insisted Morelli.
Somalia has remained in the grip of on-again, off-again violence since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
Earlier this year, the country had appeared to inch closer to stability after government troops and African Union forces – deployed in the country since 2007 – drove the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group from most of its strongholds.Last Mod: 09 Aralık 2014, 01:12