A group of 76 Ethiopian refugees have voluntarily returned home from Kenya’s Kakuma camp today. This marks the first major voluntary repatriation program for Ethiopian refugees in the country.
The movement, supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, is part of a growing trend of thousands of Ethiopian refugees in the region who are voluntarily choosing to return to back to their country, following recent developments.
The majority of those returning originate from Ethiopia’s Somali region and had been living in exile for up 12 years. More than half are women and girls, with some having been born and raised in Kakuma.
“This is a monumental day for these returnees and for UNHCR. All refugees have the fundamental right to make an informed, voluntary choice to return to their country in safety and dignity,” said UNHCR’s Regional Bureau Director for the East, Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa, Clementine Nkweta-Salami.
“Nothing is more fulfilling than to assist people who have been dreaming of returning to their towns and villages to raise their children and rebuild the lives they left behind.”
The return was organized by UNHCR with the support of IOM. The returnees were flown from Kakuma to the eastern Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa in two UNHCR-chartered flights. They will now travel onwards by road to Jijiga, capital of the Somali Region.
UNHCR is providing returnees with a reintegration package in the form of cash assistance which also includes transportation allowances to ensure they can travel to their places of origin.
Today’s return movement, a significant milestone in the quest to provide solutions to one of Africa’s protracted refugee situations, follows a previous repatriation in June 2019 in which 94 Ethiopian refugees were assisted to return home from Sudan.
More voluntary return movements from Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps are expected in the coming months.
To date more than 10,000 Ethiopian refugees in regional and neighboring countries, have expressed to UNHCR their intention to return home, including those hosted in Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.
Returns from Djibouti and Kenya are currently being prioritized with more than 4,000 Ethiopian refugees expected to voluntarily return home from Kenya this year and 500 from Djibouti.
The surge in numbers follows recent reforms in Ethiopia which have opened the political space and are widely believed to be improving the country’s respect for human rights and the quality of life for its citizens.
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Originally published by UNHCR on 19 February 2020