Somaliland: Refugees Return Home from Ethiopia
The agency said that 451 refugees were taken in a convoy on Monday to the border as they began their return to the self-declared republic of Somaliland. The refugees were from Aisha refugee camp, located in eastern Ethiopia, which UNHCR hopes to close by the middle of the year.
Aisha was one of only two camps remaining in Ethiopia for Somali refugees, said UNHCR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last camp, Kebribeyah. It is currently home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there.
Currently, there are 116,000 refugees in Ethiopia - the majority of whom are from Sudan. UNHCR has organised the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ethiopia to Somalia and expects an increase in the coming years. At present, refugees were returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland, in northwestern and northeastern Somalia, respectively.
"UNHCR has identified Somalia as one of eight countries in Africa where it expects to see significant refugee returns over the next four years if security remains stable and donor countries ensure adequate amounts of rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance," McKinsey added.
At one point in the early 1990s, there were eight refugee camps housing 628,000 Somali refugees. Some 400,000 refugees returned home from Ethiopia on their own even before UNHCR began, in 1997, to help refugees return to Somaliland voluntarily.
Some 250,000 have since gone home with UNHCR assistance and it is expected that by the middle of this year, all refugees from Somaliland will have left Ethiopia.
UNHCR also gave returnees plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, kerosene stoves and nine months' supply of food to help them re-establish life back home.