The camp sprawls across a grey sand dune overlooking the Indian Ocean. A multitude of small shacks lashed together quickly by hand using whatever could be found: crumpled sheet-metal, acacia branches and cardboard. Children play in heaps of rubbish.
Al Jazeera reported that more than 16,000 people are living here, destitute and stranded, on the fringes of Kismayo, a port town in Jubaland state, on Somalia’s southern frontier.
“There is nothing, there are no good services here… We don’t have a house, no education, no health, no work. We don’t know where to go and where to find what we need,” said Ahmed Mohamed Abukar, a father who returned to Kismayo – his hometown – in February.
Abukar arrived in a truck with his wife and six children, crossing the wild border from northeastern Kenya where his family had lived as refugees for seven years in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.
He said he felt forced to return to Somalia because of food and healthcare cuts in Dadaab last year, and because of threats from the Kenyan authorities, he told Al Jazeera, seated on a plastic chair in the sand, a crowd of fellow returnees gathering around him.
Abukar knew the situation in Kismayo would be worse than Dadaab. He suspected scant help for the returnees and he knew his country was still at war.
Nevertheless, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has spent much of 2016 trucking and flying thousands of Somalis back into their country as part of a “voluntary repatriation” agreement between that organisation, the Kenyan government, and the fledgling federal government of Somalia.
Between December 2014, a year after the repatriation agreement was reached, and September 2016, a total of 30,731 Somali refugees from Dadaab went through the voluntary return process, according to UNHCR statistics.
Of that total, 24,630 were returned in 2016 alone as the process was accelerated under pressure from the Kenyan government to close the camp.
Kismayo is the first main town after the Dhobley border crossing and an island of relative security..