Somali returnees from Yemen, survivors of a conflict that needs to end

Woman and child, Somali returnees from Yemen to Somalia. Photo: Oxfam
Matiha is lining up to be registered in Bosaso, Somalia, after fleeing the war in Yemen. The Yemenis welcomed her family 25 years ago when the war broke out in Somalia.

Today we are facing a regional crisis that warrants our attention. A crisis that impacts within Somali shores and to a country dear to Somalis: Yemen.  

The unrest in Yemen is of great concern to humanitarian actors in Somalia. It is estimated that 500,000 Somalis live in Yemen in which 230,000 of them are registered Somali refugees.  As the heavy fighting continues, thousands of Somali returnees and Yemeni nationals are compelled to flee and many are still lining up to catch the first boat heading to the Horn of Africa. The total number of arrivals to date is 14,457 individuals. Out of them, 8,112 were registered at the Reception Centers in Bosaso and Berbera.

In one day alone on 27 May as many as 2,601 people fleeing the conflict arrived in Bossaso, Puntland, from Mukalla, Yemen. The majority of these were Somali nationals - around 2,513 of them. This was the largest single arrival in Somalia since the beginning of the Yemen conflict. Approximately 85 percent were from South Central Somalia. 

Mariam Ali, a Somali returnee, spoke about how eager she is to link up with her husband in Djibouti. She says her husband has foreign citizenship but failed to get her out since the war broke out. “My husband Ahmed awaits me in Djibouti but I’m so scared to travel, in fear of being harmed on my way there, I don’t know what to do”.

Many of these returnees are vulnerable 

Despite agencies making efforts to offer assistance, a large number of the arrivals are complaining about lack of sufficient food, hygiene and medical support. Some of the families are in need of immediate assistance while others simply need monetary support to reach their relatives or friends across the country, some aiming as far as Djibouti. People are leaving the reception center on daily basis and moving to local hotels or to their relatives where it’s more convenient and better access to food and medical attention for those who can afford it. 

The number of returnees arriving is likely to rise since some agencies are now planning to facilitate the transportation of those in Yemen who cannot afford to travel. That would mean more burden on the local administration and humanitarian agencies as they will be tackling a larger number of returnees who are vulnerable and financially unstable. 

It is clear that the conflict in Yemen is affecting Yemenis on a day to day basis, but we must remember that the conflict also has consequences for the broader region. 

By Nimo Jirdeh, Oxfam in Somalia Policy and Advocacy Advisor