An international medical charity has warned that an agreement to begin the voluntary repatriation of Somalis from Kenya must not happen at the expense of providing aid to refugees.

The Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF), however, said the repatriation could potentially be a positive step.

The agreement, signed on November 10 by the UN, Kenya and Somalia, outlines the practical and legal procedures for the voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Somalia, many of whom were born in Kenya’s vast refugee camps or have lived there for up to 22 years.

While reintegrating refugees back into Somalia could be part of a real and sustainable solution for Somali refugees, maintaining assistance to the refugees needs to be high on the agenda of all stakeholders.

“No one chooses a life as a refugee, and most refugees struggle to get by on what the government and aid agencies provide,” says Dr Jean-Clément Cabrol, MSF’s Director of Operations.

“Any decision to return should be made willingly and gladly, and not be forced on them by a cut in aid.”

The practical implementation of the three-way agreement raises a number of concerns, according to MSF.

“Voluntary repatriation implies that people are fully aware of the situation inside Somalia,” says Dr Cabrol in a statement from MSF.

Dr Cabrol said MSF’s 22 years of experience working in the country suggest that, given the high level of insecurity in many parts of Somalia, and the large numbers of people who are still displaced within its borders, safe conditions for the return of refugees are not guaranteed.

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