Every year hundreds of thousands of people are forced to flee home because of war, persecution or a natural disaster. Some never return, because it's too dangerous. But many of the world's 17 million refugees do eventually go back once it's safe enough.
Most have to start rebuilding their lives from scratch, often in a country still recovering from the ravages of war.
"It's quite difficult for returnees to find a job and start earning a livelihood," says Ammal Ibrahim, who works for the United Nations in Somaliland. Today she is in the village of Harrirad overseeing the arrival of another group of refugees returning from camps in eastern Ethiopia. Most of the people here have been living abroad for the past decade. Over the past two years, Harrirad has grown from 1,500 to 10,000 people. So, what are they returning to?
Two of the major concerns of the returnees are access to water and education. "They're right to be worried. We used to have a school with four classrooms, but with the arrival of the new refugees, we'll have to find new teachers and new classrooms. And we don't know if they'll have money to pay for the fees," says Ammal.
In the capital, Hargeisa, it hasn't been easy either. "It's getting worse, in fact, we have no medical services at all," says a returnee who has been living in one of Hargeisa's settlements. "When it comes to sanitation, and jobs and water supply, it's not sufficient. And we have no choice, there's no way of going back somewhere you can't call home."
With an annual budget around US$20 million, the government hasn't got any money to support these returnees. It blames the fact that Somaliland isn't recognised as a country by the international community.
"We're worried about it," says Abdullah Hossein Iman, the minister of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Reintegration.
"The reintegration programme is very limited if compared to other countries. An American reporter has been here and wrote a piece 'Somaliland: returning home to nothing'. That's the situation we've got here." Eighty percent of Somaliland's population is unemployed and nearly half lives on less than US$1 a day. The biggest source of income for the country is remittances, the money sent back by Somalilanders overseas.
So, how easy is it for the refugees who return home to stay?
More than 1 million people fled the civil war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most of them have returned over the past eight years. And according to the United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees, the majority of those have stayed. "People are coming back slowly and they had the chance to really assess the situation," says Vicky Tennant, from UNHCR in Hargeisa. "In my experience, at the end of the day, a refugee wants to come back and stay home."Many of the returnees use the skills they learnt as refugees. "I make Italian style pizzas in my restaurant," says Abdul Khadir, who has opened an Italian restaurant called Napoli in the town of Boroma. He learnt the recipes during his years working in Italy. "I thought I should work hard to save some money, so I could come back with my family to a place I could call home. But it's been hard to find the right ingredients."
"Basically it's the people that can make the development," says Mohammed Farrar, who's the administrator at the University of Hargeisa, and a returnee from Canada. In 2000, a group of former refugees and some who are still abroad, joined efforts to set up the university. "We are training people for the different sectors, scientists, electricians, doctors, teachers... You name it! We have to try to do that with all the sectors."
The students have to pay US$30 a month, but the university is growing. Today there are around 1,000 students and the first group graduated in 2004. Many of them are former refugees.
"People are really very tired from civil wars, regimes and such things," says Abdullah Ahmed, an IT consultant at the university, and a returnee whose father was killed during the conflict. "Every person wants to make and feel change and the will is from the people, from this nation, not from its leaders. Every single person in Somaliland has the same determination and is willing to reach his achievements. We are going to succeed."
This edition of The Big Question was first broadcast on 26th March 2005
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