One hundred and six Somali refugees returned to Somalia today after fleeing the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
The returnees, who consisted of the elderly, women and children, arrived at Mogadishu’s Aden Abdulle International Airport on Thursday morning on a commercial flight from Berbera, Somaliland, thus ending a difficult journey that began by boat in the Yemeni port of Aden.
Their return was facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the support of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The refugees’ arrival occurred three months after another group of 127 Somali evacuees was repatriated from Yemen last year.
The 106 returnees were received at the Airport by senior IOM and Federal Government of Somalia officials. They included the IOM Somalia Head of Operations and Emergencies Sam Grundy, the IOM Programme Manager Heidrun Salzer and the Commissioner of the Somalia National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, Ahmed Nur. More returnees are expected to arrive in Mogadishu in the coming days.
Some of the returning Somalis wept openly and thanked God for bringing them back home safely. They recounted the harrowing experiences they endured in Yemen, where many had originally sought refuge from Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s.
“We hated life in Yemen. It was bad, and we longed to return to our country to live with our people,” said Layla Mohamed Salah, 38, who spent 15 years in Yemen.
Aydurus Sharif Mohamed spent more than 20 years in Yemen, and he explained how hardship compounded by the deteriorating security situation in Yemen forced him to flee the capital Sana’a and move to other cities before returning to Somalia.
“There were a lot of clashes in Sana’a and intense aerial bombardments, which forced us to flee to Aden where we experienced a lot of difficulties,” said the 71-year-old returnee.
Mr. Grundy noted that security conditions in Aden had hampered efforts to evacuate more Somalis from the war-torn country.
“Given the deteriorating situation in Aden, (this has been) made possible by a very close partnership with the Government of Somalia and also UNHCR to make this happen. We have just heard from talking to the returnees that a much larger number are still there. The situation is getting worse, and they really do want to come back home,” the IOM official explained.
Mr. Nur hailed the safe arrival of the returnees, adding that their compatriots have welcomed them with open arms.
“They are saying that Yemen is worse in terms of security and livelihood, it’s much, much more risky than here. So with the assistance of the IOM as well as we hope UNHCR, they are better off, no doubt about this. As far as the government of Somalia, we always coordinate with international organizations, and we are prepared to assist more and more to return to their homeland,” he said.
The evacuees were taken to an IOM reception centre where they will receive more support to help them start a new life in Somalia.
IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is an intergovernmental organization that provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers.