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Returns to Somalia from Ethiopia

Briefing notes

Returns to Somalia from Ethiopia

24 May 2002

UNHCR yesterday (Thursday) organised the first returnee convoy this year from refugee camps in eastern Ethiopia to north-west Somalia - also known as Somaliland. A UNHCR-led convoy of nine buses and 27 trucks carrying some 1,500 refugees left Rabasso refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia early Thursday morning and arrived at the Ethiopia-Somalia border shortly before noon. There, all the returnees were vaccinated against meningitis - this follows an outbreak in the region last year - in a joint operation with local authorities and staff from the World Health Organisation (WHO). A second convoy is expected to leave the nearby Camaboker refugee camp on Sunday (26 May) with a further 2,000 refugees on board.

Many of the returnees have lived in exile for over a decade, having fled to Ethiopia during Somaliland's war of secession in 1988. Hundreds of thousands more fled following the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in Somalia and the ensuing outbreak of civil war in 1991.

In total, the voluntary repatriation programme now underway plans to see around 35,000 refugees return home by the end of this year, cutting by more than half the current number of some 67,000 Somali refugees seeking refuge in Ethiopia. The return of refugees to Somalia will enable UNHCR to close Rabasso camp by end-July and the larger Camaboker, which currently houses almost 20,000 refugees, by end-September. Rabasso currently has nearly 10,000 refugees.

Both camps were opened in 1988 when thousands of people fled Somalia's civil war. At the height of the crisis, more than 500,000 Somali refugees sought refuge in eastern Ethiopia, itself an impoverished region.

Last year, more than 50,000 Somali refugees - mainly from camps in Ethiopia - returned to north-west Somalia, leading to the closure of three of the eight camps for Somali refugees in Ethiopia. The closure of another two camps this year will allow for the consolidation of the remaining refugees into three camps. Many of those who may still be unable to return home are from the Juba region of southern Somalia, where the security situation remains very volatile.