Somalia's president on Saturday asked leaders of an African trade bloc to help his country find a durable solution to the Somali refugee crisis, including reintegration of returnees inside the Horn of Africa nation, where a civil conflict is now in its 26th year.
At a special summit in Nairobi on Somali refugees, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, commonly known as Farmajo, said that "about 2½ million Somali refugees and IDPs [internally displaced persons] live in camps in and out of the country. Tragically, some have lived in these camps for three generations, all because the environment wasn't conducive enough in Somalia for them to return."
He said many Somalis have voluntarily returned over the past few years, as conditions in their regions have improved gradually, but the president said there are still challenges.
"The current drought and the looming famine pose yet another challenge to voluntary return. We must not leave a stone unturned to avert another famine in Somalia," he said at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development summit.
Farmajo added that his government has a strategy to deal with the challenges facing the estimated 1.1 million IDPs in the country and the returning refugees once they are back home.
"Our durable solutions strategy calls for land reform, resettlement policies and investment in affordable housing. Taken together, these would facilitate the smooth return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs into their communities," he said.
The Nairobi summit took place as pressure grows on the Dadaab refugee camp, the biggest in the world, which has hosted hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees for decades and currently holds 249,000.
A joint Somalia-Kenya-UNHCR commission has facilitated the start of a voluntary repatriation project for refugees to return to Somalia, where drought and insecurity are still forcing many people to flee in search of food and water.
A Kenyan court has recently stopped the Kenyan government from closing the Dadaab refugee camp. The court said refugees must not be forced to return until conditions in Somalia improve and allow them to return in dignity.