On the Run, Once Again

On the Run, Once Again

Publication info

Johanna Mitscherlich, CARE Germany

Decades after fleeing their home country, more than 30,000 Somalis returned home from Yemen. They are fleeing yet another war.

Mariam sits on a plastic mat, surrounded by her husband and children. The wind is blowing against the little hut, threatening to blow the fragile construction away any second. Rain leaks through the walls made of cardboard. “This is not how I wanted to come home. I always thought that if I ever go back to Somalia it’s because things have changed for the better.” Mariam fled to Yemen from Mogadishu 17 years ago with her husband and two of her children, after her mother and one of her brothers were killed. “You know, we got used to living in refugee camps. In Aden, we built up a life there. I gave birth to eight children, my husband worked as a fisherman and I had a small kiosk.” While she talks, Mariam gently caresses the head of one of her boys who is fidgeting with a little spoon in his hands while fixating the corner of the tiny makeshift shelter. “My son is disabled,” she says. “This is what worries me most. There is no help for him here and his condition is getting worse every day.”

Since the start of the conflict in March, more than 100,000 people have fled from Yemen. Among these refugees, there have been over 30,000 Somalis returning to their homeland. “The war in Yemen escalated and we feared for our lives. But it was the lack of food which made us leave eventually. There was simply no food at all. I was afraid we would starve to death,” Mariam explains.

They left on a boat from the harbour of Aden four months ago. A Somali businessman had offered thousands of his countrymen to take them back home. Like Mariam and her family, most of the Somalis had lived in refugee camps in Yemen for decades.  Mariam was seven months pregnant when she started the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden. The war in Yemen, the many months of eating only what she could find on the streets and the shock of having to flee once more was too much for her. On the overcrowded boat Mariam lost her child. “I was bleeding and people were screaming for help. But there was no help. At some point I passed out.”

Mariam and her family arrived at a transit centre in Bosaso, Puntland’s commercial capital and major seaport on the Southern coast of the Gulf of Aden. After a few days they were brought to Jawle Camp, which is located on a windswept plain, a 20-minute drive from the town of Garowe in Puntland. Around 20,000 people live here. Over the past years families have travelled great distances to seek safety and shelter in Jawle Camp. What they have been fleeing from? Violence and hunger.

“People here have almost nothing themselves, but they still shared with us the little they have when we first arrived. Some gave us mats, others helped us to set up this tent with wooden sticks and cardboard,” Mariam says. Somalis, Somali returnees from Yemen and Yemenis are all facing dire humanitarian needs in the camp with the burden growing as the flow of people continues. The new arrivals are adding strain to a country that already is home to over one million internally displaced people – one of the highest numbers in the world. The displaced people have to rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs such as shelter, food, water, access to health services and protection.

“I feel like war is following us,” Maram says, who had to leave behind the few belongings she had in Yemen. “It’s as if the world was falling apart.” In Yemen, the conflict shows no signs of abating and peace talks that were scheduled for mid-November still have not taken place. Over 14 million people are now food insecure, two million more than in June and four million more than before the escalation of conflict in March.  

Across the Gulf of Aden, in Somalia, CARE has been working since 1981 and is supporting returning Somali refugees with emergency assistance and by linking them with urban youth and resilience programs. In Jawle Camp, CARE has set up cash for work programs, garbage collection, health and hygiene mobilisation and has trained women to support other women who have experienced sexual and gender based violence.

Currently, for returnees like Mariam, the severe shortage of resources means there is little support available. The lack of even basic services makes the return even more difficult for Mariam, who has not set foot on Somali soil for 17 years. “I never thought of returning like this, as a refugee, once again. I have never been to Garowe and it doesn’t feel like coming home. Quite honestly, I don’t really feel any ties to any country or place anymore. I don’t care where we live, as long as there is peace, work, a school and medical care for my children.”


Mariam fled with her husband and her 10 children from Yemen to Somalia. 17 years ago she had left Somalia because of the war. Now they had to flee once more. They are living in a camp for internally displaced people in Garowe, Puntland. Mariam was pregnant when they fled Aden. On the boat journey across the Gulf of Aden she had a miscarriage. About 30,000 people have fled Yemen to Somalia since the conflict there started in March. Most of them are Somali returnees. "I always thought of going back home some day. But I never thought I would have to flee again. I do not really care anymore where I live. I just want to live somewhere in peace, wherever that is." Mariam has never been to Puntland, as she is originally from Mogadishu.