“We are here to stay” – Dadaab returnees built new lives with hope and help
Kismayo, Lower Juba, Somalia, 9 March 2017 - When the news reached Adiqa that the Dadaab refugee camps would soon be shut down and everyone living in them had to leave, she wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed like madness to just pick up and go, after living there for the past five years. All her children were going to school for free. But dawdling didn’t seem to be an option either.
In the end, Adiqa and her husband decided to go with the flow. Together with other families, Adiqa, who was eight-months pregnant at the time, her husband and their five children set out on the journey back to Somalia. On 29 August 2016, they arrived in Kismayo, the capital city of Lower Juba region in southern Somalia. Just days later, her sixth child, a boy, was born. They named him Geedi, which means “traveller.”
Since the start of the voluntary return of Somali refugees from Kenya in December 2014, following the signing of a tripartite agreement between the two governments and UNHCR, more than 38,000 refugees have returned. The bulk of them—32,000—returned when the repatriation process intensified ahead of the 2016 November deadline for the camps’ closure. The majority of them settled in Kismayo, while others went on to Mogadishu, Baidoa and other cities and towns in southern Somalia.
When I met Adiqa and baby Geedi, who was three months old, they were at a health clinic near the displaced person’s camp they were living in, waiting to get Geedi checked for signs of malnutrition. Basic health and nutrition services have been provided free to all children and mothers—returnees and residents of host communities alike. The returnees are also getting extra assistance to help them settle, including US$90 worth of food monthly from WFP, and US$50 a month in cash from UNICEF, for six months.
“When we arrived at the way station, they registered us and took fingerprints of all my 10 fingers then gave me this card,” said Adiqa, with baby Geedi strapped to her chest, sound asleep. The card was loaded with the monetary assistance from WFP and UNICEF, and can be redeemed at any authorized shop for food or cash. The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom is the major donor behind this innovative work, with a US$7 million contribution in 2016/2017 to the three U.N. agencies working together to support the resettlement of the Dadaab returnees – WFP, FAO and UNICEF.
“We are getting rice, sugar, vegetable oil and flour every month and that’s a big help, but they finish quickly so we have to look for other ways to support ourselves. My husband searches for charcoal and sells it in the market. He also delivers water to people to make some money,” said Adiqa.
Shelter, food and integration
Obtaining a decent place to live, enough to feed the children and basic health and education services is a daily a struggle for millions of Somalis. And it is more so for the returnees. Many were disheartened by the reality they found in their home country – poor living conditions, lack of jobs, no schools for their children, and violence by extremist groups. Yet despite the frustration, disappointment and even helplessness that I heard in their stories, there was never regret.
Shuaib Barre Elmi, 61, arrived in Kismayo on 15 August 2016. He now lives with his family in a camp for displaced persons and pays US$20 a month in rent, which is no small amount for most Somalis. On top of that, he has to pay for firewood and water. “We were not given other options,” he said about the return. “Now we are here, and we are here to stay. We just wish that we could live in peace and have access to services.”
“They told us the camps would be closed by November and that we must go back to Somalia,” said Hawo Mudey Hasan. Her 10-month-old baby, Isho, had just been weighed by health workers. “When someone comes to you and tells you ‘you can go home now’, what could be better than that?”
In 2017, hundreds and thousands more refugees are expected to return home from Dadaab. Meeting their basic needs will perhaps be one of the greatest tests of the ability and will of the local governments and international aid agencies. They will be coming amidst a severe drought that started in some areas but has now spread across all of Somalia. More than half of Somalia’s total population, or 6.2 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance. The impact of the drought has been felt particularly hard by children – 326,000 under-fives are malnourished and the number is expected to rise to 944,000 throughout the year.
Despite all this, the returnees are determined to stay and be part of their communities. “I have no plan to go back to Dadaab,” said another returnee Quaali Khalif, mother of six. “This is my country, and I am happy to be back. We need shelter, food and integration, in that order.”