More than 100 Somali refugees have returned to their homeland after fleeing ongoing conflict in Yemen.
Fighting in Yemen has divided the country for nearly two years in a civil war that pits the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Western-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
The returnees arrived at Mogadishu’s Aden Abdulle International Airport on a commercial flight from Berbera, Somaliland, after a difficult journey that began by boat in the Yemeni port of Aden.
Some of the returning Somalis wept openly as they recounted the harrowing experiences they endured in Yemen.
Many of them had originally sought refuge from Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s.
“We hated life in Yemen. It was bad, and we longed to return to our country to live with our people,” said 38-year-old Layla Mohamed Salah, who spent 15 years in Yemen.
Others explained how hardship compounded by the deteriorating security situation in Yemen forced them to flee the capital Sanaa and move to other cities before returning to Somalia.
“I fled the country in 1992, but in 1994 there were clashes in Yemen in which so many Somalis died. However, this recent wave of clashes was the worst. We were forced to flee to Sanaa, then to Aden where things got really bad,” added another returnee, Ahmed Rahman Hayle.
The latest arrival of Somali returnees comes after another group of around 127 was repatriated from Yemen last year.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is facilitating the return of the refugees, more returnees are expected to arrive in Mogadishu in coming days.
IOM officials also say that security conditions in Aden had hampered efforts to evacuate more Somalis from the war-torn country.
“We have just heard from talking to the returnees that a much large number are still there. The situation is getting worse and they really do want to come back. Obviously the next step from here is to look at how we can best facilitate (that) by boat or by plane and we are working with all the stakeholders involved to ensure that happens,” said IOM Somalia Head of Operations and Emergencies Sam Grundy.
Ahmed Nur is the chief of the Somali Government commission responsible for refugees.
“I just talked to an old lady, of over 60, and she’s praying to Allah for her luck that she is back home after 15 years. There is another gentleman who has been away over 25 years. It is very amazing. Yemen, what they are saying is that, apart from them coming back to their homeland, in terms of security and livelihood, it’s much much more risky than here,” Nur said.
Somalia, which has had its fair share of political challenges in the last decades, is now home to over 30,560 returnees who have fled violence in Yemen.
The Somali returnees were taken to an IOM reception centre where they will receive support to help them reintegrate in Somalia.