UN refugee agency resumes repatriation to Somalia’s Puntland

21 July 2003

The United Nations refugee agency has resumed the repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya’s Dadaab camp to Puntland in north eastern Somalia after a two-month suspension due to a lack of funds for the flights.

More than 80 Somali refugees have left Dadaab camp since Saturday when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) restarted its return operation to Puntland, which is only accessible by air because it is not safe to travel by road in large parts of central and southern Somalia.

A total of 2,880 Somalis have signed up for voluntary return, and UNHCR is trying to encourage more to follow through on “go and see” visits to Puntland, an economically vibrant part of Somalia that many of the refugees have not seen before.

Even those whose parents or grandparents came from Puntland are not familiar with the boom that has transformed the area's economic and physical landscape. Puntland's economic development is being fuelled by former refugees who are bringing their education, money and business skills home after years spent in Canada, the United States or Western Europe.

To allow the refugees to make informed decisions, UNHCR on Saturday took four leaders on a three-day visit to Bossaso, Puntland's economic centre, Garowe, the capital, and Galkayo, another booming city. They will report their impressions and experiences to the refugees in Dadaab.

"Much as we admire the communication system that exists among the Somali people from inside Somalia to every corner of the world, there is always a difference between receiving oral information and seeing it with your own eyes," said Simone Wolken, UNHCR representative for Somalia.

"UNHCR wants refugees to make truly informed decisions," Ms. Wolken added. "They need to know what to expect and how to prepare while still in exile. Meeting the people in Puntland will help the refugees to make a realistic decision" about whether to accept UNHCR's offer of help to settle in Puntland.