GENEVA — In a joint operation funded by the United States, the U.N. migration and refugee agencies have repatriated 134 Somali refugees from war-torn Yemen.
A refugee boat carrying 73 men and women and 61 children left the Yemeni port of Aden on Monday and is to arrive Tuesday at the Somali port of Berbera. It is the third voluntary return of Somalis organized by the International Organization for Migration and U.N. refugee agency since September.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said some previous efforts had to be suspended in the past few years because of the risks involved in organizing an operation such as this in a war-torn country.
“Despite security difficulties there and the fact of divided authorities, we were still able to get into an area around Aden that has not always been accessible to humanitarian aid groups and manage this transport,” he said.
The U.N. migration agency reports the Somalis came to Yemen in search of a better life, but got caught up in the conflict and often were subjected to abuse by smugglers. The IOM began organizing the voluntary returns in November 2016. Since then, the agency has helped 1,845 Somalis return home.
Millman told VOA Somali refugees receive a reintegration package to help them restart their lives when they arrive home. He said they often receive a grant of $1,100 so they can start a business, buy a cow, or invest in some other form of livelihood. That acts as a big inducement for refugees to voluntarily return, he noted.
“It is a strong sweetener because the stigma of going abroad and failing is so great that we find this is a very effective way of lubricating I guess is the best word, this process,” he said.
Millman said the cash grant ends up being less expensive for the donor than the cost of keeping a refugee or migrant in detention in Europe. He noted that the repatriation project is funded by a $4.4 million donation from the United States.