A Long Road Home for Somali Refugees

A Long Road Home for Somali Refugees

Posted on in Africa, Peace-Building / Conflict Resolution, Refugees, United Nations.

Photo courtesy of UNHCR/B.Bannon

There are roughly 1.3 million Somalis displaced internationally, due to a civil war that has been ongoing for over two decades. Kenya, Somalia’s neighbor to the west, is the largest host country of Somali refugees. The two countries’ presidents have recently been involved in discussions on how to get refugees back home. Two weeks ago, Kenya and Somalia tentatively agreed to repatriate more than half a million refugees from Kenya. This agreement is intended to balance Kenya’s drive to unload the cost of hosting refugees and Somalia’s readiness to welcome back its residents amid daily security threats.

By late August, Kenya plans to convene a conference sponsored by both the Somali and Kenyan governments and the UN High Commission on Refugees that will draft a framework to guide the return of about 600,000 Somali refugees.

Kenya has called on donor countries to support the repatriation, but it is unclear whether the funds for this initiative will come from the $300 million recently pledged for Somalia at a donor conference held last May. While repatriation is a welcome development, donors remain concerned about security threats in Somalia. As stated by Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR country representative in Somali:

“Any return must be on a voluntary basis. This is a key principle where UNHCR stands in a very, very firm decision. If there is support in the returns process, it must be done in a safe and controlled manner and only in areas where this return can be sustainable.”

A major concern is how returnees will be fully reintegrated into society, which seems to depend to more on Somalia’s capacity than Kenya’s willingness to send them home. Initially, repatriated Somalis will lack basic food, clothing and shelter. If these individuals go back to work as – for instance – farmers, they will need tools, seeds, and irrigation. Additionally, Somalia continues to face concerns, from security to adequate development. Children who have received very little education will need schools, and health programs will need to be established to resolve outbreaks of communicable diseases in crowded communities. Many Somalis living in the world’s biggest refugee settlement say they are not ready to leave.

See this article for more details.