Yemen: Assisted spontaneous returns for Somali refugees begins

In the first UNHCR-assisted spontaneous return movement for Somali refugees from Yemen, 133 refugees departed yesterday for Somalia. Given the current life-threatening conditions in Yemen for many civilians, including refugees, UNHCR is supporting the voluntary returns of Somali refugees who constitute 91 per cent of Yemen’s over 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers, or some 256,000 individuals.

Returning refugees are being assisted by UNHCR and partners with documentation, transportation and financial support in Yemen to facilitate the journey, as well as return and reintegration assistance upon arrival in Somalia. The first group of UNHCR-assisted returnees left the Port of Aden last night on a vessel chartered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is working in partnership with UNHCR for these returns.

The sea journey takes approximately 16 to 18 hours from the time of departure with the vessel expected to arrive in Somalia’s Port of Berbera.

UNHCR has also been working in close partnership with relevant national authorities in both Somalia and Yemen, including Somalia’s National High Commission for Refugee and IDPs (NCRI) and Yemen’s Immigration, Passport and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) to facilitate the returns, including with the issuance of relevant documentation and the coordination of assistance.

Those returning were residing in either the Kharaz refugee camp in Lahj Governorate or the Basateen District in Aden. Returnees or those intending to return have informed UNHCR staff that the prevailing situation in Yemen and fears for their safety and personal security are driving their return.

Though most Somali refugees who are registered in Yemen originate from the Banadir, Lower Shabelle, Bay, Middle Shabelle and Woqooyi Galbeed regions in Somalia, most refugees opt to return to Mogadishu in the anticipation that assistance and services will be more accessible and available.

Upon departure returnees received a cash grant and on arrival in Somalia, they will be assisted with enhanced reintegration assistance, including an initial reinstallation grant, non-food items or cash equivalents, food vouchers, and subsistence allowances among other assistance.

In Yemen, UNHCR has been providing protection and services for refugees and asylum seekers including by providing legal assistance, supporting education and livelihoods programs, and providing access to health and pyscho-social services and a cash programme for people with specific needs amongst others.

With current circumstances in Yemen life-threatening for many civilians, including refugees, UNHCR, Yemeni national authorities and humanitarian partners face significant challenges in ensuring adequate protection, humanitarian assistance, and access to essential, life-saving services for refugees.

In response to the intentions of a number of refugees who have expressed their intention to UNHCR to return home to Somalia, UNHCR is providing support for up to 10,000 Somali refugees who have made the choice to return, based on the information received at Return Help Desks on conditions in Somalia and on the assistance package offered.

UNHCR’s humanitarian operations in Yemen will continue to provide support to refugees who remain in Yemen.UNHCR

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