UN agency and European Union kick-off pledging conference to support return of Somali refugees

Somali refugee children

Somali refugee children prepare to return to Mogadishu from the Dadaab camp in Kenya. UNHCR is supporting voluntary repatriations of Somali refugees from Kenya.


BRUSSELS [ ABN NEWS ] — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today convened with the European Union a pledging conference to rally support for Somalia by creating conditions for the voluntary return of refugees to the east African nation faced with “one of the most complex crisis in recent history.”

“We need to invest in Somalia so that some of the refugees who are currently stranded in refugee camps can go home and participate in rebuilding their country,” Mr. Guterres said in a press statement ahead of the event, which took place in Brussels, Belgium.

“That would benefit not only Somalia and the Somali refugees, but the entire region.”

More than 2 million Somalis remain displaced in the region in a refugee situation that has been going on for 23 years, including some 1.1 million in their own country and 967,000 as refugees in the neighbouring countries. Somalis are among the top 10 nationalities of those who have been crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015, according to the High Commissioner’s Office (UNHCR).

With Somali refugees making up one of the leading protracted refugee situations, delegates from more than over 40 countries and organizations are meeting in Brussels for a pledging conference organized by the UN refugee agency and the European Union and attended by Somali and Kenyan leaders.

They discussed how to concretely prepare for voluntary returns of Somali refugees from the region and enhance absorption capacity in areas of return in Somalia by strengthening humanitarian and development actions, as well as the security and resilience of refugees and host communities in Kenya.

The initial plan of action, which is aligned with the Somalia New Deal Compact framework, requires a total of $500 million and will run for two years until the end of 2017, according to the agency.

At the end of the day, UNHCR tweeted that the pledging conference raised $105 million.

“Around the world, sustainable voluntary return home is the solution which most refugees prefer for themselves and their families,” the top refugee official said. “Somalis are no exception.”

UNHCR and partners have helped some 5,300 refugees to voluntarily return to Somalia since December 2014; while a significant number have returned spontaneously, and the refugee agency is now getting ready to move into the enhanced phase of this operation, which will aim to assist 135,000 refugees to return to Somalia between January 2016 and December 2017.

The majority of Somali refugees (420,000) are living in Kenya, mostly in the five refugee camps in Dadaab in the north-east of the country. Nearly 250,000 Somali refugees are living in Ethiopia and a similar number in Yemen.

The UN official said he hoped that,” as the global refugee crisis has moved into the centre of the international community’s attention, states and development partners will take a holistic approach to the problem” by “addressing their continued needs for protection in the region and enhancing our efforts to support sustainable voluntary return.”