From Yemen to Somalia: Escaping one conflict zone for another

By Hamza Osman

The conflict in Yemen has seen over one million people displaced inside Yemen and approximately 14,000 Somalis who had previously fled the war in their country are now seeking to return to Somalia.

As the situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate, thousands more Somalis are expected to make the journey across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen in the next few months.

Among those who have already made the journey so far, are 30-year-old Wardo Osman Mohamed and her two daughters.

Eight years ago, Wardo took a bus from Mogadishu to Bossaso, a sea port city where she made her way to Yemen with the help of a smuggler who got her on a boat.

While in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Wardo met and married a fellow Somali national who worked as a carpenter. She had her first daughter in 2008, followed by a second in late 2009.

In 2010, her husband returned to Bossaso to find a better job that could sustain his family when his carpentry work in Yemen could no longer cater for their basic needs.

“For the first couple of months in Bossaso, my husband used to send us money but as time went by he stopped contacting us or sending any money to meet our needs,” she says.  Since it was now up to her alone to look after her family, she faced some challenges. “At this time, I faced discrimination as I tried to be the family’s sole provider.”

Faced with this tough new life as a single mother in a foreign country, Wardo decided to look for work as a house help for a Yemeni family to enable her to look after herself and her two children.

When the conflict in Yemen began, Wardo and her daughters were living in Safia district in Sana’a. She recalls one night during the early stages of the conflict.

“We were staying at a family apartment building. There was heavy shelling and everyone was told to evacuate the building,” she says. “During the confusion and panic, for a moment, one of my daughters got lost. I have never felt so much pain and heartache like I did at that moment when I could not find her.”

Thankfully, one of Wardo’s neighbours had recognized her daughter and they brought her back safely to her.  

Wardo continued to live in the same apartment even as the conflict escalated, with airstrikes and the shelling in the city becoming a regular feature. During this difficult time, she met and interacted with other Somali women who were facing the same struggles as her.

Over time, Wardo, together with the other women, were introduced to centres where she and other refugees could get assistance such as food from the humanitarian agencies still operating in Yemen. While attending one of these forums, Wardo was informed that the Somali Embassy in Yemen was registering Somali nationals, so that they could be assisted to return back to Somalia.

Wardo promptly registered with the Embassy and two weeks later, she and her two daughters boarded a plane to Somalia.

On May 18, 2015, Wardo and her daughters were among the 95 Somalis who landed at Mogadishu International Airport, assisted by IOM which worked in partnership with other humanitarian agencies to safely evacuate them back to Somalia.

“When I walked off the plane and saw my country for the first time in years, it brought tears to my eyes,” said a visibly elated Wardo after her arrival in Mogadishu.

IOM provided the returnees with food, accommodation, emergency medical checks and onward transportation.

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Hamza Osman is a Programme Assistant in the Migration Health Department at IOM Somalia.