Dadaab refugee complex is located in Garissa County, 90 kilometres from the eastern border of Kenya and Somalia. The first camp in the complex, Hagadera, was established in 1991, to accommodate the first influx of 90,000 refugees who were fleeing the civil war in Somalia after the fall of Siad Barre’s government in the hands of warlords. By 1992, three refugee camps Dagahaley, Hagadera and IFO were constructed to accommodate the increasing numbers of refugees that were streaming in at the time.

A second large influx of refugees arrived in Kenya in 2011 when some parts of Somalia experienced debilitating drought and famine in Southern Somalia. Its population spiralled to over 460,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Between 2011 and 2013, two new refugee camps, IFO 2 and Kambioos were opened to accommodate the new arrivals who were displaced by the severe drought in Somalia.

Kenya has always been at the forefront in seeking durable solutions for refugees in the country. Therefore, when the government noticed spontaneous returns of refugees back into Somalia, it brought together stakeholders in the Kenya refugee management regime and reached an agreement that it was time to start the process of helping refugees to return home in Somalia as well as help them re-establish their lives and country after decades in a refugee camp.

By November 2013, the Foreign Ministries of Somalia and Kenya and the UNHCR signed a Tripartite Agreement in Mogadishu paving the way for the voluntary repatriation of Somalia refugees living in Kenya. A repatriation commission was formed to coordinate the return of the refugees.

As at 30 June 2022, 85,815 refugees had safely returned to safe areas in Luuq, Baidoa, Kismayo and Mogadishu. February 2014 had the largest number of Somali refugees who spontaneously returned to Somalia. Around 80,000 to 100,000 refugees are estimated to have spontaneously returned to Somalia, significantly decreasing the camps population.

By 2018, the population of the refugee camps had significantly reduced hence two refugee camps were shut down and the camp property was transferred to the county government of Garissa. The closed camps were Ifo2 and Kambioos.

The three remaining camps are Dagahaley, IFO and Hagadera. Dagahaley and IFO are located in Lagdera (Dadaab) District while Hagadera is located in the neighbouring Fafi District. A large part of the refugees in the old camps (IFO, Dagahaley, and Hagadera) came to Dadaab in the 1990s thus in the third or fourth generation with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren born in the camps.