Love of family, country draw first refugees back to Somalia from Kenya

News Stories, 9 December 2013

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
Somalia refugee Dhahiro Hussein Ali, a 22-year-old mother of four, mills sorghum for breakfast for her four children. She's inside a kitchen tukul, a separate shelter from the one where the family sleeps. She says she will be one of the first to return to Somalia when UNHCR begins assisting refugees who choose to return to three pilot areas inside Somalia next month.

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya, December 9 (UNHCR) When the UN refugee agency starts helping refugees go back to Somalia from Kenya on their own next month, Dhahiro Hussein Ali, a 22-year-old mother of four, vows she'll be one of the first to leave.

"My love for my family is calling me back," says the soft-spoken young woman in a grey headscarf. "I miss my family my mother, my father, my brother, my sister and most of all, my first-born, my nine-year-old boy, Hussein. My mother is keeping him"

She and her husband, Abdikadir Ibrahim Abdi, 42, fled drought and instability in Somalia in July 2011. Dhahiro, who was just 13 when she gave birth to Hussein, had been ill and unable to breastfeed him, so her mother raised him as her own. When it came time for Dhahiro to leave for Kenya, the grandmother refused to part with the boy.

"My mother said since the whole family was leaving for Kenya, she would keep the boy, so when she looked at him she could remember the whole family," Dhahiro recounts.

Now, with reports that her mother is ill, Dhahiro feels she must go home to Kismayo, one of three regions included in the pilot programme for assisted returns for refugees returning on their own to Somalia.

Some 388,000 Somali refugees live in the Dadaab refugee camp complex in north-eastern Kenya, the majority of the 475,000 registered Somali refugees in all of Kenya. Most fled their country after the 1991 overthrow of the Siad Barre regime, but others fled drought in recent years.

Relative newcomers like Abdikadir and Dhahiro are believed to be the most likely to want to go home under a pilot programme whereby UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners will support refugees returning by themselves to three areas Baidoa, Luuq and Kismayo beginning on January 1. Organized repatriation convoys may begin later as conditions improve in certain parts of Somalia.

This week, UNHCR will step up its consultations with Somali refugees at refugee help desks in the five camps that make up the Dadaab complex. Refugees will be able to inform UNHCR about their interest in returning to Somalia, and learn in detail what support they can get for the journey and inside Somalia.

As a farmer, Abdikadir is looking forward to being able once again to support his family, and not feeling like a beggar, as he did as a refugee. "My country has resources," he says. "God can assist me. The moment it rains, I can cultivate my fields and sustain my family with the products from the farm."

Isho Madkar Issack, a 30-year-old mother of four, says she is grateful to UNHCR for training her to become a midwife in Dadaab skills that will help her rebuild her county when she joins the vanguard going back to Somalia in January. She says she and about 20 other women are, as they put it, mobilizing other refugee families to form their own convoy to go back to Baidao, an eight-day journey if rain does not make the unpaved roads difficult.

Others are not quite so eager. Nimo Mahat Samatar says she, her husband and their four children would be willing to go back to Luuq but not immediately. "I want to be in the second phase," she says. "I want other people to test and if they get there safely, then I will go."

With the date for her departure less than a month away, Dhahiro sits inside her traditional round Somali tukul (shelter) and contemplates her homecoming with a mixture of emotions patriotism and worry for her mother and son. "It's my country," she says quietly. "I love it so I'm going back."

As for the moment she finally sets eyes on her beloved first born, Hussein: "I'm so anxious to see him. I love him and am feeling lonely without him. I'm sure I'll shed tears and cry on him."

By Kitty McKinsey in Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya




UNHCR country pages

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed wins Nansen Refugee Award

Hawa Aden Mohamed, a former refugee whose visionary work has transformed the lives of thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, is the winner of the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award. Widely known as "Mama" Hawa, she is the founder and director of an ambitious education programme in Galkayo, Somalia, that helps women and girls secure their rights, develop vital skills and play a more active role in society. View a slideshow of Mama Hawa's work at the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, which offers literacy courses and vocational training as well as food and other forms of humanitarian relief to internally displaced people [IDP].

Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed wins Nansen Refugee Award

Photo Essay: Dollo Ado, a Year After the Somalia Famine

In mid-2011, Dollo Ado was at the heart of a refugee crisis as a wave of Somalis facing violence and starvation at home trekked through the desert to seek safety in the small, remote border town in eastern Ethiopia. Many arrived exhausted, sick and emaciated, often carrying weak or dying children.

To deal with the mass influx, UNHCR and the Ethiopian government built three new refugee camps. The agency and its partners also set up critical nutrition programmes in the camps. Large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, combined with mass vaccinations and other public health measures, saved numerous lives.

One year on, the malnutrition rates among children have begun to stabilize. The number of new arrivals, although steady due to continued violence and poor rains, has dwindled and many people have moved from tents into semi-permanent housing. UNHCR's main focus is to improve lives in the camp by launching livelihood programmes and environmental projects for refugees and the host communities.

Today, the Dollo Ado area hosts five camps, with a total population of nearly 170,000 refugees. Several hundred new refugees arrive from Somalia every week. While the population of the newest camp, Buramino, is reaching 30,000, UNHCR and the government have agreed on the location for a sixth camp.

Photo Essay: Dollo Ado, a Year After the Somalia Famine

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Somalia: Saving LivesPlay video

Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.