UNHCR helps female returnees regain financial autonomy in Somaliland
News Stories, 9 January 2007
GARBODADAR, Somaliland, January 9 (UNHCR) – The future looked grim for Elmi Kadhra and her nine children when they left a refugee camp in Ethiopia eight years ago and crossed the border into the self-declared Somaliland.
When they finally reached her home village, Garbodadar, in the Awdal region bordering Ethiopia and Djibouti, Kadhra says she found only "wild animals running around. This place was a battlefield, no one could stay here. I had lost everything to the war." That included her husband, who was killed by crossfire before they even reached sanctuary in Ethiopia some 15 years ago.
Most of the other 670,000 people who have repatriated to Somaliland over the past decade – mainly from Ethiopia and Djibouti – also found ruins. But with the help of UNHCR, Kadhra and other like-minded former refugees have rebuilt their lives and are thriving back in their homeland.
To support the sustainable reintegration of returnees, UNHCR has since the 1990s been rebuilding infrastructure and helping returnees – mostly women – find sources of income. The UN refugee agency helped build a school, police station and water well as more and more people started returning here.
Kadhra, meanwhile, had set up a teashop in Garbodadar to make some money to feed her family as she tended the 15 goats UNHCR gave to help her get started on her return. The horned ruminants and their descendants have provided a steady and vital supply of milk, meat and money over the years.
When UNHCR launched a small revolving fund four years ago, Kadhra was one of 50 women who formed a group and applied for the loan of US$3,000 that the agency was offering to support small agricultural and business projects run by women. The first 10 women each received US$300 and when they had paid off the debt, the money was loaned to one of the other women in line.
Kadhra used her loan of US$300 to buy more goats, paying back US$10 a month. After selling the livestock for a profit in neighbouring Djibouti, she has made enough money to rebuild her home and make life easier and more comfortable for her children.
The UNHCR scheme has proven successful because of the diligence of the women in meeting their obligations and repaying their loans in a timely fashion. Similar loan programmes have been launched in about 30 other villages around Somaliland and UNHCR has loaned a further US$2,000 to Kadhra's cooperative.
The reliability and success of the women in her group reflects on the care with which they were vetted and chosen. "Whoever is willing to join must be trustworthy, willing to make a difference, enterprising and understand the protocol of repaying," Kadhra said.
"The person must also have an asset, such as a business, animals or valuables, that can be confiscated if she doesn't fulfil her obligations – or someone who can guarantee their loan," she explained.
The other entrepreneurs have used their money to expand their shops, invest in their farms or buy livestock – US$300 buys 25 sheep and goats that can be sold for a profit across the border in Djibouti.
UNHCR places great importance on the relationship it has developed with women in villages like Garbodadar because it is much more than a simple financial arrangement. "It gives us access to them. We can then hear their protection-related problems, such as early marriage or sexual mutilations," said Ahmed Yagoub, who is responsible for UNHCR activities in Somaliland.
Formerly known as British Somaliland, the country united with Italian Somaliland in 1960 to become Somalia. The union collapsed when the autocratic President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 and the Republic of Somaliland declared – people soon started fleeing the anarchy that followed. A further 4,000 Somalis are expected to return to the Awdal region, mostly from Djibouti.
By Catherine-Lune Grayson in Garbodadar, Somaliland
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Women in Exile
In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.
Women in Exile
Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.
To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.
The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Statelessness and Women
Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.
In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.
Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.