UNHCR Special Envoy lauds return of Somali refugees from Yemen
133 refugees return from Yemen to Somalia by boat in maiden UNHCR-organized operation
NAIROBI (UNHCR) — Ambassador Mohamed Abdi Affey today lauded the first return movement organized by UNHCR, bringing 133 refugees from Yemen to Somalia.
“This is a watershed moment for Somali refugees who are affected critically by war, insecurity and the worsening economic situation in Yemen,” he said. “UNHCR is supporting voluntary return of the very vulnerable who express the desire to save themselves from the ongoing turmoil.”
Explaining that provision has been made to assist up to 10,000 refugees to return home, Ambassador Affey noted that the crisis in Yemen has diminished the protection space amid concerns that the situation can only worsen in the face of deteriorating conditions across the country. He commended the collaboration with International Organization for Migration (IOM). IOM is partnering with UNHCR to assist voluntary return, and chartered the vessel that left the Port of Aden yesterday with the returnees.
With over 256,000 Somali refugees, Yemen is the second largest hosting country after Kenya. Somali refugees constitute 91% of the country’s 280,623 refugees and asylum seekers. Most of them originate from the Banadir, Lower Shabelle, Bay, Middle Shabelle and Woqooyi Galbeed regions in Somalia. Returnees generally opt to return to Mogadishu anticipating that assistance and services will be more accessible.
Describing refugee protection challenges the Special Envoy lamented criminal activity that compounds an already difficult situation. “Smuggling and human trafficking continues to flourish, with criminal groups luring unsuspecting civilians who then face extortion and all manner of vices,” he said, painting a dire scenario. “Frustrated with limited opportunities, many Somali refugees opt for irregular movement to countries, including Yemen, with the help of smugglers. In many instances, they lose their lives at sea and in the desert.”
Ambassador Affey met the Prime Minister and senior government officials during a visit to Yemen last July. They discussed modalities to protect refugees and identify solutions for them. The Special Envoy also met with Somali refugee leaders from Kharaz and Basateen camps, and listened to their concerns. Most have been in Yemen for 27 years.
Ambassador Affey was appointed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi last year to assist UNHCR to maximize efforts in the search for solutions for Somali refugees and asylum seekers at national and regional levels. Over 2.4 million Somalis are currently uprooted, including some 850,000 refugees scattered in neighboring countries, and nearly 1.6 million displaced inside Somalia.
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