The United Nations refugee agency predicts that many more Somalis in the Dadaab camps will seek repatriation to their homeland in the coming months.
That forecast is based on the reopening of the road from the Liboi border station in Kenya to Dhobley, a town inside Somalia
The route had been closed for 10 months due to insecurity and heavy rains, with returns having been carried out solely by air to Kismayu and Mogadishu during that time.
“Road convoys are the preferred mode of transport for many refugees, and it is therefore expected that the number of refugees expressing interest to return will significantly increase,” the UN agency said on Monday.
During February, 1,315 refugees were assisted in voluntarily returning to Somalia, the agency noted.
That brought the total number of Somalis who have taken part in the three-year-old supported return programme to 75,157.
Dadaab’s population stood at 231,103 at the end of February.
At its peak in 2011, the five-camp complex hosted twice as many Somalis and other East Africans, making it the world’s largest concentration of refugees.
The Kenyan government announced three years ago that it would shut down Dadaab because the camps were infiltrated by Al-Shabaab fighters.
A High Court judge blocked the closure last year.
The UN, meanwhile, pledged to move ahead expeditiously with the voluntary return initiative that it had devised along with the Kenya and Somalia governments in 2013.
While attention has been focused on the 26-year-old Dadaab complex, an even larger total number of refugees — 253,000 — are currently living in the Kakuma camps and in Nairobi.
And their ranks are steadily growing as violence and hunger spur an exodus from South Sudan.
The UN agency lacks the resources to provide adequate nutrition to refugees in all the Kenyan camps.
It has so far received only seven percent of the $189 million sought from donor countries this year.
“Food assistance remains far from meeting recommended daily intake of the population and leads to deteriorating nutrition status especially among young children and women,” the UN refugee agency said on Monday.