By: Dr Abdusalam H. Omer
My first visit to the Dadaab refugee camp as part of Somalia President His Excellency Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s delegation this week truly moved me.
I saw and felt both struggle and hope in the same place, people and in all partners tasked with helping this most vulnerable group lead their daily lives while also preparing to return home in a dignified manner.
The visit to Dadaab was historic and throughout our tour, we were accompanied by Major-General Joseph Nkaissery, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet secretary, and senior officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Regardless of recent tension invoked by irresponsible media reports, it was clear from all partners that there was a determination to, YES, return Somali refugees home but to do it in a way that is dignified, orderly and in line with all international laws and existing agreements.
The experience of refugees generally is almost impossible to describe in simple words. The upheaval, separation, loss of loved ones, property and having to restart life essentially is an experience that cannot be simply and easily explained on paper.
The raw emotion of loss and displacement alone are overwhelming. Therefore, it is absolutely my belief that no one would ever want to be a refugee for a minute, let alone over two decades in a camp.
The section of Dadaab we visited was well maintained and the Kenyan government and partners on the ground like the UNHCR, in conjunction with other groups like Islamic Relief, are implementing life-changing education and health projects within it.
“However, and to reiterate my point, their return must be dignified, orderly and carried out in a manner that allows them to have meaningful lives upon arrival.” Dr. Abdusalam H. Omen, the minister for foreign affairs and investment promotion of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
I was emotionally moved to listen to a poem by young learners at Hilaac Primary School in the IFO 2 Camp, which highlighted the importance of education to the stability of their uncertain lives and the centrality of not disrupting the precious little opportunity they had with hasty political actions.
Given the international refugee crisis, Somalia, Kenya and the UNHCR have a historic opportunity to work through and within the principles and guidelines of the Tripartite Agreement to create a blueprint for successful refugee resettlement policies that can be transferred across borders. While this will not always be easy, we have the conditions for success.
The Somali refugees our delegation met in Dadaab want to return home and our government wants them home. In fact, the young learners at Hilaac and the majority of the people in the camp are those that our nation will rely on to contribute to and continue with the rebuilding and institutional, political, social and economic development of Somalia.
However, and to reiterate my point, their return must be dignified, orderly and carried out in a manner that allows them to have meaningful lives upon arrival.
The Somali government will always thank the government and people of Kenya for their generosity, patience and support during Somalia’s hours of need as President Mohamud made clear during the historic visit to Dadaab.
However, a better acknowledgement of Kenya’s generosity and an even deeper appreciation was expressed by the refugees we met in the camp who have integrated with the local community.
Somalia and Kenya have a common future and challenges as neighbours. Our two nations’ ties are historic and I am certain that in close partnership and with continued cooperation, we will overcome the common challenges of regional and international insecurity and capitalise on the opportunities for trade and commerce available to us.
FROM REFUGEES TO LIAISONS
Upon their successful return to Somalia, the refugees now living in Dadaab will no doubt act as a further bridge between Somalia and Kenya by bringing us even closer together through language, culture, commerce and enhanced people-to-people relations. This is a noble outcome that we must all protect and promote through the refugees’ orderly and safe return home.
Somalia is turning the corner towards stability and progress. A strengthening Somali government and institutions are working with partners, including the Kenyan government, to prepare the ground for the return of our citizens by defeating the last pockets of opportunistic terrorism and creating opportunities at home.
With this partnership based on a commitment to resettle this most vulnerable group in a dignified, timely and well-planned manner, we are confident that we will succeed in our common endeavour.
Dr Abdusalam H. Omer is the minister for foreign affairs and investment promotion of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
This article first appeared in Daily Nation, Kenya