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Refugees arrive back in Somalia as agencies seek fresh aid

News Stories, 1 March 2004

© UNHCR/T.N.Gerard
Two Somali refugee girls on a rest stop as they make their way home from Djibouti with UNHCR.

HARGEISA, Somalia, March 1 (UNHCR) Hundreds of Somali refugees are returning home from Djibouti with the start of UNHCR repatriation convoys to north-western Somalia. This comes as aid agencies appeal for $111 million to help the war-torn country.

Some 220 Somali refugees returned from Djibouti to the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the north-west last Friday with assistance from the UN refugee agency, bringing to more than 430 the number of refugees who have gone back since the middle of February.

The latest group of returnees left Djibouti's Holl-Holl and Ali Addeh camps in buses hired by UNHCR and escorted by Djiboutian officials. 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 north-western region.

The returnees are going to various communities, including Boroma, Harrirad, Jidhi, Elgal and Abdoulkadir. Each head of family receives nine months of food aid from the UN World Food Programme, plus a repatriation grant of $40 per person, as well as blankets, cooking sets, sleeping mats, tarpaulins and hygiene supplies from UNHCR. They also brought with them all their personal effects and shelter items from the camps.

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

Some 400,000 Somalis remain in exile, mainly in neighbouring countries but also further afield, due to the continued instability in many areas of their homeland. There is hope on the horizon for many of these people, as various leaders from war-ravaged Somalia agreed in late January to establish a new parliament at talks in Kenya under the mediation of the six-nation Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD).

This year, UNHCR plans to repatriate 35,000 Somalis, while carefully measuring the pace of returns against the country's strained absorption capacity.

© UNHCR/T.N.Gerard
Loading up before departure.

Other voluntary repatriation movements planned this year include returns from eastern Ethiopia's camps. Hartisheik camp, where more than 400,000 Somalis sought aid when the civil war erupted 15 years ago, now only shelters 2,250 people. Most of these refugees are expected to go back, as are some of the 25,000 refugees in the neighbouring Kebribeyah and Aisha camps the last of what was once a string of eight camps along Ethiopia's remote eastern frontier.

Significant obstacles to repatriation 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 Gulf states have also had a dramatic effect, and fed the urge of many Somalis to flee to the Arabian Peninsula and Europe.

In order to help stabilise the situation inside Somalia and help communities that are receiving returning refugees, over the last two years UNHCR has implemented 225 quick impact projects in the water, health, education and transport sectors, including 174 in the north-west, 34 in the north-east, and 17 in Mogadishu.

Along with similar projects initiated by a host of partner agencies, these programmes have helped. But the country's needs are huge, with unemployment estimated at 80 percent, adult literacy at 17 percent and primary school attendance at only 14 percent.

In late February, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations operating in Somalia appealed for $111 million to assist the country this year. UNHCR's share of the 2004 consolidated appeal amounts to more than $5.7 million. A similar consolidated appeal for $70 million a year ago netted only half the requested amount, pointing towards the continuing challenge agencies face in helping Somalia meet its most pressing needs.

The UN appeal will help to provide urgent support to more than 200,000 Somalis whose livelihoods are threatened due to prolonged drought in the north of the country.

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UNHCR country pages

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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