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Scores of Somali Refugees Return Home From Yemen

FILE - A group of Somali refugees is seen in Hodeidah, Yemen, March 22, 2017.

The International Organization for Migration has helped 143 Somali refugees, stranded in war-torn Yemen, return home earlier this week.

The group of Somali refugees, including 56 children, set off by boat from the port of Aden on Monday and arrived at the port of Berbera in Somaliland the following day.

The U.N. migration agency’s spokesman, Joel Millman, said government officials and representatives from humanitarian agencies were on hand to greet them and provide assistance.

“With the conflict having effects on the economic and security situation in Yemen, many migrants and refugees find themselves without the means to provide for themselves and their families. Stranded, they then turn to humanitarian organizations for return assistance,” Millman said.

The return project is funded by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center and the Kuwaiti government. Since it began last November, Millman said more than 1,500 Somali refugees have been repatriated.

Somalis comprise the bulk of the 250,000 refugees in Yemen. Many have been there since the 1980s. That’s when civil war broke out in Somalia, leading to the overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre.

The safety enjoyed by Somali refugees in Yemen for many years has long since dissipated. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war for more than four years that turned situation in the country into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The United Nations reports two thirds of the population, or 24 million people, is dependent on international aid for survival.

U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Balloch told VOA conditions in Somalia still are not conducive for returns. But he adds the UNHCR will assist Somali refugees who voluntarily request help to return home.

“With the prolonged conflict, the refugees have also been feeling the pressure. And for those who want to go back home in spite of what is happening inside Somalia, we are able to help them… Once they reach Berbera, we are able to give them some assistance. In terms of where they want to go and settle down, that is entirely up to the refugees,” he said.

Balloch said the UNHCR and IOM have jointly repatriated nearly 5,000 Somali refugees by boat from Yemen to Somalia since 2017.