The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced plans to return home the first group of Somalis who have been living in neighbouring Eritrea since the early 1990s.
"Somali refugees will repatriate from Eritrea for the first time tomorrow, Wednesday, when 57 volunteers board a UNHCR-chartered aircraft in Asmara for a flight to the Somali capital, Mogadishu," agency spokesman Kris Janowski told reporters in Geneva.
The initial 25 families registered to take Wednesday's flight are among 1,230 Somali refugees who have asked UNHCR to help repatriate them. At the end of 2000, there were 1253 Somali refugees in Eritrea.
UNHCR will be facilitating the return of the Somalis by providing them with assistance. "Before leaving Eritrea, each returnee will receive a cash grant to aid their re-integration in Somalia," Mr. Janowski said. "Authorities in the Somali Transitional National Government have given UNHCR clearance and pledged cooperation for the operation."
Somali exiles are repatriating to their home country in growing numbers thanks to the installation of a temporary government there, according to UNHCR, which earlier this year returned 117 Somalis from Yemen. An additional 2,800 refugees who remain in Yemen are expected to return by boat before the end of the year. In addition, around 7,700 Somalis in camps in Kenya have told UNHCR that they would like to repatriate, Mr. Janowski said.
In total, UNHCR cares for over 281,000 Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa, including approximately 137,000 in Kenya.