UNHCR equips refugees who wish to return to Somalia with the skills to help them start over. However, more needs to be done. Written by UNHCR staff in Kismayo with Mary Theru as executive producer.

Fadumo* furrows her brow as she concentrates on folding the piece of cloth spread out before her.

She soaks it in a mixture of salt, hot water and dye for a few hours and, after rinsing it, reveals a beautifully patterned cloth that she hangs out to dry. This is another of her intricately designed tie-and-dye fabrics that have made her renowned in Kismayo.

“I really enjoy my work with tie and dye especially when I wash the clothes and hang them to dry,” she says.

Last year, she could barely foresee a life where she was in control and earning an income. Born and raised in Kenya’s Dadaab camp, Fadumo, 24, could only imagine her homeland through the stories and memories shared by her parents, who fled Somalia’s civil war in 1991.

That August, she finally had an opportunity to make her dreams of going home become a reality. She and her family decided to return to Kismayo in southern Somalia, which her parents had left nearly three decades ago.

It is a decision she does not regret.

“I am so grateful that we decided to come back home as our country is gradually becoming peaceful,” she says.

However, settling in Somalia was not easy. Besides adjusting to a new environment still rife with security problems and a severe lack of infrastructure, Fadumo quickly realised that she needed a job to help her take care of her three young sons.

“I can afford food, I am able to pay rent and take my eldest son to school.”

She learned of a centre in Kismayo that supports returnees. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, funds the Returnee Support Centre which is run by the American Refugee Committee (ARC) — an international non-governmental organization that supports returnees in Somalia in partnership with UNHCR.

Fadumo registered for courses in computer literacy and technical vocational education and training (TVET). The three-month course taught her tie-and-dye skills and, soon after completing her training, she took out a US$500 loan through ARC’s micro finance programme.

She started her own business and now runs a busy workshop, making beautiful garments that she sells in the local market. She also started a small grocery shop selling fruit and vegetables.

Support programmes give Somali returnees a chance to rebuild

Fadumo sells her tie-dyed fabrics in the market in Kismayo, as well as in her shop, which also stocks fruit and vegetables. © UNHCR/Feisal Omar

“Life here is much better than at the refugee camp. Food is affordable, I am able to pay rent and send my eldest son to school.” 

Fadumo, who was born in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, has returned to her homeland of Somalia with her children. © UNHCR/Feisal Omar

More than a year later, Fadumo has found success, and sense of belonging, for the first time in her life.

“Life here is much better than in the refugee camp,” she says. “I can afford food, I am able to pay rent and take my eldest son to school.”

She has also been steadily repaying the loan, made possible by the daily income she generates from her two businesses.

“Most returnees do not have the right skills to get gainful employment when they return,” said William Ejalu, the head of UNHCR’s sub office, in Mogadishu. “TVET is therefore a handy tool that helps them acquire the right skills and provides them an equal opportunity to compete for jobs.”

The support centre was set up last year when the first group of returnees started to arrive in large numbers in Somalia. Since then, through the programme UNHCR has been able to support 1,200 returnees, including 100 in Kismayo alone. The trainees receive cash grants to start businesses and are supported by regular visits from their trainers.

*Names changed for protection reasons.

On International Women's Day, we honour the refugee women, like Fadumo, who are rebuilding their lives, helping their communities and inspiring a generation.

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