An Uncertain Road Back to Somalia


According to UNHCR, in Kenya, over 400’000 refugees live in the Dadaab refugee camps, while over 100’000 live in the country’s urban areas. A vast majority are from Somalia. Although parts of Somalia have been liberated from Al Shabaab and tripartite agreements have been signed between the governments of Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR, some refugees are hesitant to return, not only because of the volatile security situation, but also for lack of essential services. For others, returning home is an exhilarating prospect soon within reach. To understand these differences and the challenges of a return, here are some insights from RET’s beneficiaries in Kenya.


Abdi Hussein (1) is bubbling with excitement at the prospect of returning for good to Somalia. After spending 4 months rebuilding his family house in Mogadishu in late 2013, Abdi returned to Nairobi early January 2014 to complete his Civil Engineering degree at one of Kenya’s universities. One more year to go, and he can return to Mogadishu armed with a degree, ready to rebuild battered Somalia – literally. To him, the relative peace is a good enough reason to return. He is among the thousands who are hopeful that Somalia’s stability is within reach.




Mohammed Olga, aged 28 and a father of 6, does not want to return to Somalia. Not anytime soon. With free education and health care for his wife and children, and a job in one of the over 25 NGOs and UN Agencies working in Dadaab, Mohammed prefers to stay. “Somalia does not offer any prospects of employment and I am afraid my family will go hungry if I return and fail to get a job. Besides, the runaway security situation means that few humanitarian organisations are willing to set up operations in Somalia. Where will I get a job?”.


In Dadaab three young refugees share a bench inside a temporary classroom in Hagadera camp. They are one too many for a bench meant for two. However, the discomfort brought by diminishing space does not deter their level of attention as the teacher goes through an English lesson. This group of 60 Accelerated Learning Programme learners are basking in rekindled hope.


Having finished primary school many years back and after failing to secure a place in one of the few existing secondary schools in the camps, they had lost all hope of completing secondary education, until RET launched operations in the camp in 2012.


They now have the opportunity to complete secondary education using a condensed curriculum accredited by Kenya’s Institute of Curriculum Development. To them, a return to Somalia is meaningful upon completing secondary education, as they will then be able to secure jobs as untrained teachers or work as NGO staff.


However, for a sustainable return to take place, gaps in secondary education must be bridged in both the host countries and in Somalia. Failing to provide this could bring bitterness among the youth and breed grounds for recruitment into militia groups including Al Shabaab. This scenario would not only destabilise Somalia, but also affect Kenya’s security; if the recent terrorist attacks both in Kenya and Somalia are anything to go by.


In a survey carried out by RET in Somalia (Dobley, Afmadow district, Lower Juba) last November, it became evident that existing schools do not have the capacity, both in terms of available infrastructure as well as teaching and learning resources, to absorb new learners. In essence this means that the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees will continue to be limited until this capacity is built-up and security is guaranteed.


RET has therefore initiated plans of conducting cross-border activities, particularly targeting out-of-school adolescents and youth. RET is setting the initial footsteps in Dobley, where they will be provided with Information and Communication Technology skills a requirement for computer-based work opportunities. This intervention is likely to be a pull factor for the young people who are tired of living within the confines of the refugee camps.


For RET, this is another step in a long repatriation journey. But a step in the right direction.

(1) For security purposes, all names mentioned here have been changed and any pictures linked to this article do not represent the individuals interviewed, but offer a similar and plausible illustration of them.