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UNHCR starts repatriation of Somali refugees in Ethiopia

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UNHCR starts repatriation of Somali refugees in Ethiopia

18 February 1997

About 200 Somali refugees returned to north-west Somalia Tuesday at the start of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation for 290,000 of them in Ethiopia.

The refugees, consisting of 35 families, boarded six buses from Teferi Ber camp outside of the north-eastern town of Jijiga for the 25-kilometre trip to dispersal centres across the border in north-west Somalia. From there, they will proceed to their home communities.

The 290,000 Somali refugees are in nine camps in eastern Ethiopia. Most of them came from Somalia's north-western region. At its peak in the late 1980s, Ethiopia provided asylum to more than 600,000 Somali refugees.

The 200 returnees were provided with food for nine months and a travel grant of 200 EB ($30).

About 1,000 Somalis are expected to return this week in the first of a series of five trial weekly movements until May. About 10,000 Somalis are likely to return during that period.

Since mid-1993, UNHCR has been laying the ground work in north-west Somalia for the return of refugees from neighbouring countries. It has been implementing quick impact projects - mainly rehabilitation of health, sanitation, water and education facilities.

Nearly one million Somalis fled a civil war that led to the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in January 1991 and a prolonged drought. Many Somali refugees have returned to Somalia, but substantial numbers remain in neighbouring countries. In addition to those in Ethiopia, there are also some 126,000 Somali refugees in Kenya, 20,000 in Djibouti and 10,000 in Yemen.