The United Nations humanitarian agency has warned that planned spontaneous returns of Somali refugees is likely to be affected by the government’s offensive in southern and central regions.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report published on Saturday that the planned returns of refugees mainly from Kenya will decline due to the Somali government’s military offensive against al-Shabab fighters.
“OCHA observes that the current security situation and displacements risk a declining interest by registered refugees to undertake return movements,” the UN agency said.
The UN report also said humanitarian agencies remain concerned about possible consequences of the government offensive.
The government forces backed by 22,000 African Union soldiers began a nationwide offensive against al-Shabab in March following an attack a month earlier by the group against the presidential palace. More than a dozen people died in the assault.
Among the 25 districts targeted for the military operation is Baidoa (Bay Region), one of the pilot areas for the voluntary return of Somalis under a 2013 agreement reached by Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR.
Last month, the Kenyan government called on Somalia to speed up the repatriation procedure of some half a million Somali refugees living in the United Nations-designated camps in Kenya.
The Somali government also said it wants its refugees resettled, but the process must be gradual.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 42,000 people in Somalia sought asylum last year.
Nearly 60,000 Somalis were also displaced in the country’s southern and central regions last year.
Somalia did not have an effective central government from 1991 until August 2012, when a previously agreed upon political transition was instituted.
On September 10, 2012, Somalia’s clan elders appointed 275 members to a new parliament, which subsequently elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud president.