Somalilandsun — Up to 14,353 Somali refugees have made spontaneous returns from Kenya since January, with 1,029 people reported to have moved thus far in April, the UN refugee agency on Saturday.
According to latest report published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Somali refugees have also returned home from Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia with 1,879 people reported to have moved since January.
“Food, livelihood support, agricultural/pastoralist support, shelter, transport, health, protection from conflict, water, equal access to aid, social/clan protection and protection from direct attacks remain the key priority needs of the cross-border movements and IDPs,” the refugee agency said.
Relief agencies working in Daadab camp which hosts mainly Somali refugees attribute the movement to refugees crossing the border back to Somalia as that of refugees returning in search of work in Somalia as well as to check up on their farms and the assess the situation on the ground, especially as Al-Shaabab has ceded many towns and areas following the offensive by the AMISOM forces.
The movements from Kenya, from where the vast majority of people crossed into Somalia, increased more than eight-fold between November and December and between January and February, according to the UNHCR.
The Horn of Africa nation is the country generating the third highest number of refugees in the world, after Afghanistan and Iraq.
The UNHCR leads protection and emergency relief interventions targeting 700,000 IDPs out of a total IDP population estimated at 1.1 million and over 2,300 refugees in Somalia.
“As at April 17, 2013, there were 1,037,554 Somali refugees in the region, mainly hosted in Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda and almost 1.1 million Somalis internally displaced within the country, settled mainly in the South-Central region,” the statement said.
According to the UNHCR, 10,755 Somalis have so far sought refuge in neighboring countries in 2013. In the month of April, 2, 000 movements were reported in different areas in Somalia due to insecurity, floods, IDP evictions as well as cross-border movements.
Thousands of people from the Horn of Africa, mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia, undertake a dangerous journey across the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen and beyond.
They risk their lives escaping conflict, poverty and recurrent drought, in search of asylum, better economic opportunities and a better life.
Many die during the journey, while others are subjected to abuse and injury at the hands of unscrupulous smugglers.
“In March 2013, 29,469 people including 4,373 Somalis crossed the Gulf. 2012 saw the highest number of people undertaking this journey since 2010, with over 107,000 people crossing the Gulf,” it said.
UNHCR Somalia, together with International Organization for Migration (IOM), leads the Mixed Migration Task Force (MMTF); a task force of humanitarian agencies in developing polices and coordinating responses to protect migrants and asylum seekers who could potentially be smuggled.
“All the activities implemented try either to prevent smuggling or to respond to urgent needs of its victims,” the UNHCR said.
“To improve the protection of the migrating population, local authorities are trained and sensitized to respect their (migrants) rights.
“Through radio messages and leaflets, UNHCR tries to inform as many people as possible about the asylum procedures existing in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland, to make all potential refugees aware of the fact that there is an alternative to risking their lives trying to cross the Gulf of Aden,” the report said.
The information campaign also warns against the dangers of crossing and the limited opportunities available in Yemen, especially for Ethiopians, who are not recognized as prima facie refugees and, in some instances, are reportedly forcibly returned to their country of origin.
“UNHCR also carefully registers all potential asylum seekers. All new mothers and expectant women, as well as all female headed families and elderly people, receive special items and shelter material. Psycho-social support and medical assistance is also provided to the vulnerable,” the UNHCR said.
After decades of factional fighting, the Horn of Africa nation has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with a series of landmark steps that have helped bring an end to the country’s nine-year political transition period and the resulting security vacuum which rendered Somalia one of the most lawless states on the planet.
These steps included the adoption of a Provisional Constitution, the establishment of a new Parliament and the appointments of a new President and a new prime minister.