Former refugee finds an opportunity to thrive back home

Where safe spaces exist, more refugees are returning home from exile to work and contribute to the development of Somalia

Mohamed Osman Mohamed with football players from another district, who came to play a friendly match with a team in Baidoa, Somalia.
© UNHCR/Caroline Opile

Mohamed Osman Mohamed was only an infant when his family fled Somalia’s conflict in 1991 and settled in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. 

After spending nearly 25 years of his life in the camp, Mohamed, 27, is back in Somalia, working as the Director General of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in the South West State.

As one of more than 120,000 refugees who have chosen to return to Somalia, Mohamed has found a unique opportunity to give back to his country – something that he has always yearned for.

“I always knew that I would return to Somalia.”

“I always knew that I would return to Somalia,” he says. “It was always a foregone conclusion from day one.”

After secondary school, he worked in Dadaab as a community journalist, contributing to The Refugee magazine. He was however keen to return to Somalia and finalize his education there.

“My father was not for resettlement to another country and he would tell me that Somalia is a rich country,” he says. “Despite the challenges in our country, he emphasized that voluntary return was the only option.”

He returned home in 2015 to find a job and continue with his studies. He started working at the secretariat of the civil service commission in South West State and was able to complete his degree.

“My father was not for resettlement ... he would tell me that Somalia is a rich country.”

Nearly 10 per cent of returnees like Mohamed have resettled in Baidoa in South West State. Here, Mohamed works with youth, including returnees, to empower them by creating platforms for integration activities and also raise their issues at government proceedings.

“Youth here are fragile as they lack jobs and entrepreneurial skills,” he explains. “We need to engage them positively, so that they can be useful in society.”

Somalia: Returnees

Mohamed Osman Mohamed stands outside an office block in Baidoa, Somalia  © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

This year’s International Youth Day, which was marked on 12 August, celebrates efforts like Mohamed’s to create safe spaces for youth globally so that they can thrive. Themed, Safe Spaces for Youth, the day recognizes the importance of safe spaces which are crucial for ensuring the dignity and safety of youth, especially those living in displacement.

“It is important to recognize the contribution of young people returning from exile, such as Mohamed,” says Caroline Van Buren, UNHCR’s Representative in Somalia. “They are the key drivers of development in Somalia.”

Mohamed is determined to make a difference among the youth in his community.  He holds regular forums with them to discuss job opportunities and deter them from negative situations like recruitment into armed groups. He hopes that as the Government puts systems in place, vocational training centers will remain a key priority.

“They are the key drivers of development in Somalia.”

Mohamed also likes to use sport, especially football, to bring together youth from different backgrounds and works with non-governmental agencies to rehabilitate stadiums.

Since 2015, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has funded the vocational training of over 200 youth who returned to Somalia and are now self-reliant. In collaboration with other UN agencies in Baidoa, UNHCR has also helped rehabilitate a stadium and a multi-purpose sports ground through the peace-building project fund. This fund supports returnees returning from Dadaab camp to Baidoa with projects that facilitate their reintegration into the society.

"This support is helping returnees contribute to job creation and contribute to the economic development here," explains Mohamed. “And with every football match, there is hope for a peaceful and cohesive society,” he says.

Since returning to Somalia, Mohamed’s younger siblings have been able to return to school. He is hopeful that all his siblings will complete school and live meaningful lives in Somalia.

“I not only want to transform the lives of my family but I also want to develop Somalia and give back to the society.”