UN refugee agency plans to repatriate 35,000 Somalis this year

2 March 2004
Somali Refugees

With some 400,000 Somalis still in exile, the United Nations refugee agency has began a repatriation operation from neighbouring Djibouti with the aim of bringing 35,000 people home to their war-torn East African country this year.

As aid agencies continue seeking $111 million to help Somalia rebuild, hundreds of refugees have already returned with the start of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation convoys to the north-western region. Some 220 people returned from Djibouti to the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the northwest last Friday, bringing to more than 430 the number who have gone back since the middle of February.

They were met at the Loyada border crossing by authorities from Somaliland's Ministry of Repatriation and UNHCR workers based in Hargeisa, the capital of the increasingly prosperous region.

Each head of family receives nine months of food aid from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), plus a repatriation grant of $40 per person, as well as blankets, cooking sets, sleeping mats, tarpaulins and hygiene supplies from UNHCR.

Over the last 13 years, more than 867,000 refugees have returned to Somalia, including more than 467,000 on convoys and airlifts organised by the UN refugee agency.

An agreement by various Somali leaders in talks in Kenya in late January to establish a new parliament has given rise to hopes of repatriation for many of the 400,000 who remain in exile, mainly in neighbouring countries but also further afield, due to the continued instability in many areas of their homeland.

Other voluntary repatriation movements planned this year include returns from eastern Ethiopia's camps. Significant obstacles still remain, as Somalia's long civil war destroyed infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, water and sanitation systems and roads. Economic collapse, drought and a ban on livestock exports to the Persian Gulf states have also had a dramatic effect, and prompted many Somalis to flee to the Arabian Peninsula and Europe.


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