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Last November, the United Nations refugee agency and the governments of Somalia and Kenya signed an agreement to support the voluntary return of Somali refugees. According to the UN, Kenya hosts 470,000 Somali refugees, the majority of whom live in the Dadaab refugee complex.

CVT works in Dadaab  providing mental health care to refuges who experienced targeted violence as well as random atrocities of war. Many CVT counselors are refugees who grew up and live in the camps.

Although the UN and Somali and Kenyan governments stress return is voluntary, news of the agreement has caused questions and concern among refugees. Today and tomorrow, we’ll share the stories of two CVT counselors, how they came to Dadaab, and their concerns about returning to their home countries. Sharif and Juda help us understand how these agreements, although voluntary, effect people who experienced war and other violence in their home countries.

Sharif’s Story
Sharif is a psychosocial counselor with the Center for Victims of Torture-Dadaab. He provides mental health care to survivors of torture and war who live in the Dadaab refugee complex.

I arrived in Dadaab refugee camps in 1992 when I was 5 years old. I came with my family members with whom we fled together. During our transit to Kenya, we travelled by vehicle until we came to the Kenya/Somalia border where we were received by the UN refugee agency. Later they later brought us to IFO refugee camp [IFO is one camp within the Dadaab complex], where I currently live.

I was born in the rural area of Baidoa town in Somali land. My parents were mixed farmers who kept a few cows and had a small farm we used to plant crops during rainy seasons.

The proposal for the refugees to return back has created anxiety and fear in me since Somalia is not safe. The area where I am from is still under Al -Shabaab rule. Although the government claimed to have freed the town, that will not guarantee full security and safety. Therefore, I am not interested in returning to Somalia now. I fear that the voluntary program might change and become a forced return or that some of the refugees might be left in the camps.

I think refugees should be allowed to stay in the camps until Somalia is peaceful since most of the people in the refugee camps are vulnerable to violence, including children, the disabled, women and elderly. If Somalia was peaceful, most people could have returned willingly but currently they fear their situation will be “out of the frying pan, into the fire”.

News of refugee repatriation has brought some emotional feelings to the clients CVT counsels. They are repeatedly asking how the repatriation process is going to be, especially towards the end of the last counseling cycle [in December]. Clients had so much concern about the news and it has really affected them because they remembered those who inflicted pain on them, and for those who are still receiving ongoing threats.

There was also a change in the atmosphere in the camps after the repatriation agreement was announced. Some business people started to reduce giving their items on credit while others have stopped selling their goods or products. That has gone down a little bit, but still it is fresh and disturbing in people’s mind.

In the future, if I go back to Somalia, I will be using my experience as a counsellor at CVT since I want to be a professional psychologist.

We will post Juda’s story Monday.