Aden Abdiraman Warsama, a Somali refugee who has been living at the Dadaab camp in Garissa County in northeastern Kenya since 2008, is optimistic about returning home.
We met him on December 19 at the county airstrip with his wife and three children waiting to be flown to the port city of Kismayu under a voluntary repatriation programme.
The media had accompanied the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi to the Dadaab refugee complex. Mr Warsama was among some 20 families and 80 individuals being airlifted to Somalia.
“I need my country,” he said of Somalia, which has suffered two decades of civil war that has brought the country to its knees.
While Mr Warsama felt Somalia was stable enough for him to return, he still appealed to the international community to help the government to provide basic amenities such as security and shelter as well as a source of income.
The voluntary repatriation programme was launched in December 2014 after the Kenyan government threatened to close the Dadaab camp that has been in existence for 26 years. Since then some 71,792 of 369,656 Somali refugees have returned to their homes.
This year alone, 32,478 returned to their homes mainly in Kismayu, Mogadishu and Baidoa, that are considered safe. Another 4,949 non-Somalis have been relocated to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana County that mainly houses South Sudanese refugees.
The Kambioos camp in Dadaab that used to hold over 19,000 refugees has been closed. It was one of five camps that made up the Daadab refugee complex. The remaining are Dagahaley, Hagadera, Ifo and Ifo II.
However, not all the remaining refugees are enthusiastic about returning home, citing insecurity, lack of infrastructure, health and educational facilities.
About 400 Somalia refugees, who had signed up for voluntary repatriation have returned to Dadaab, posing a challenge to the UNHCR on how to help them because they had surrendered their refugee status and are not entitled to ratios.
Particularly, those who were born in Kenya are not even considering the option of returning, because they have no links with Somalia. Among them is 23-year-old Ayan Abdullahi Osman who is now married with four children. Ms Osman, a housewife, stays with her family at Ifo 1 camp.
“If the camp is closed, it is up to the UNHCR to transfer me to another country because I have no links with Somalia, and it is not safe,” she said.
Sirat Mohammed, a 51-year-old mother of two from Afmadou, whose son Anas Hassan Abdullahi is disabled, rules out any possibility of returning to Somalia, and would rather the government and UNHCR relocate her to another camp.
Equally Osman Noor Hussein, an 18-year old orphan, who sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education national exams in November at Ali Hulheab Academy in Garissa Township, is instead looking for sponsorship to enable him join secondary school. He has been living with an aunt ever since his parents died in 2002.
Those who opt to return receive counselling and briefing for two weeks to ascertain that their return is voluntary.
“We also allow them to consult with family and relatives in case they want to change their minds,” said James Taban, the repatriation officer.
Once cleared, the returnees receive a cash grant of $200 and a World Food Programme card lasting six months. The package also includes $25 per month for education for the same duration, while those with special needs receive additional $30.
Mr Grandi expressed concerns over diminishing donor support saying that it is difficult to mobilise resources despite the continent hosting many refugees. He said the UNHCR has asked for support for 40,000 new settlements but only resources for 13,000 settlements are available.
“We appeal to the international community not to give up on Dadaab. We have also held discussions with the Kenyan government to help rehabilitate the infrastructure which is shared with the local community,” he said.