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Somalia. EU finances repatriation of refugees despite ongoing instability

Despite improvements, Somalia is still a dangerous place to be. But the EU has started to repatriate a certain number of refugees within the context of a general policy which consists in limiting the flows of migrants.

Owing to the reluctance of many of its member states to admit more migrants and refugees, the European Union is trying to limit the flows as much as possible. At the recent EU-Africa summit of the last 11 and 12 November in Malta, the African Union opposed European efforts to seek a general agreement for the readmission of asylum seekers whose application has been turned down and of illegal migrants at large and the creation of “hot spots” or centres aiming at separating bona fide refugees and economic migrants. But the EU has managed to strike some bilateral deals with some individual African countries.

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On the other hand, before the Valletta summit, the EU hosted in Brussels on the 21 October a donors’ conference on Somalia under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to finance the return of refugees in this country. The conference which was chaired by the EU representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, attended by the Somalian Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake and by the Kenyan Minister of Interior, Major-General Joseph Nkaissery, EUR 94 million including EUR 60 million from the EU were pledged to that effect. Concretely, the aim is to finance training programmes and the creation of jobs for some 10,000 Somalian refugees and support the preparation efforts of those who live in the Dadaab camp in North-Eastern Kenya and of refugees from Yemen and Eurpe who wish to return to Somalia.

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The funds pledged in Brussels represent the equivalent of 20% of the cost of a two years programme to repatriate 35,000 refugees before the end of 2016 according to High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Gutierres. It aims at facilitating the return of refugees and has a security and infrastructure rehabilitation component in addition to access to education, safe water and sanitary services as well as agricultural projects and job creations in Somalia itself. Out of the total, EUR 10 million of the EU package will go to Kenya in order to train refugees in the camps but also create employments in the host communities near the camps which have been affected by the impact of the exodus. So far, over 5,300 refugees have returned to Somalia since December 2014 with the assistance of the UNHCR whereas a larger but unspecified number came back home spontaneously, says the UNHCR. Accordingly, the number of internally displaced persons in Somalia amounts to 1.1 million while 967,000 refugees have been registered in the surrounding countries, including 420 000 in Kenya, mostly in five camps in Dadaab. Nearly 250,000 Somalis live in Ethiopia as refugees while 240,000 are in Yemen, 29,000 in Uganda and 12,000 in Djibouti.

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It remains to be seen however if the programme will be implemented as foreseen. Indeed, participants to the conference in Brussels acknowledged that conditions were not ripe yet for massive returns. And a few days later, facts proved them right. On the 14 November, 22 persons were killed during two attacks from the jihadist militias Al-Shabaab, one against a military camp located near the port of Kismayo in the South of the country and another against the building of the national intelligence service in Lafoola, near the capital, Mogadishu. Two days later, at least seven civilians were killed in crossfire between policemen and soldiers during a food distribution in a displaced persons camp near Mogadishu. On the 19 December, other three people were killed in a gun and bomb attack in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

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Beside this agreement with Somalia, the EU signed in Malta with Ethiopia a joint Declaration for a Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM), reflecting the importance of Ethiopia as a key country of origin, transit and destination of irregular migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa on the route to Europe. According to Federica Mogherini, “the agreement will boost the bilateral cooperation to tackle migrant smuggling and human trafficking, to support the reintegration of returned migrants, to support Ethiopia in its hospitality for 750,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and to strengthen resilience of most vulnerable communities. The Common Agenda signed today takes EU-Ethiopia cooperation up a level, and will improve the management of migration flows”. Similar agreements were signed with Cape Verde, Morocco and Nigeria. The next step would be to sign a Mobility Partnership agreement including the negotiation of visa facilitation and readmission agreements like the one signed with Tunisia in 2014. But for the Italian MP, Barbara Spinelli who sits in the ranks of the United European Left at the European Parliament, the Malta summit and more generally the EU policy has only one purpose: “free the European leaders from their responsibility (towards refugees) and build forteress Europe”.

François Misser

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