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Despite growing U.S. government concerns about the alleged presence of extremist groups in Somalia linked with the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, the international community largely continues to largely ignore a golden opportunity to strengthen stability and political moderation in Somalia's peaceful northwest corner--known as Somaliland--where a fragile young government is seeking good relations with the West.

According to a new report released today by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), tens of thousands of refugees are in the process of returning home to Somaliland in 2001 and 2002 because the region has achieved relative peace and security, in stark contrast to the anarchy and violence that continue in the rest of Somalia.

Despite Somaliland's tentative signs of progress and its dire need for international humanitarian assistance, however, the world has failed to provide development aid and support for population reintegration that could help prevent future problems and make Somaliland a much-needed island of stability in the volatile Horn of Africa.

The new USCR report, Welcome Home to Nothing: Refugees Repatriate to a Forgotten Somaliland, urges the U.S. government and other international donors to provide long-overdue humanitarian assistance to Somaliland's 3.5 million people, particularly to former refugees struggling to reintegrate into the extremely impoverished, predominantly Muslim society.

"The U.S. and other nations should recognize that support for development and stability in Somaliland is ultimately in the world's best interest," the USCR report states.

Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia after the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991 but has failed to receive international diplomatic recognition. As a result, Somaliland has generally been shunned by donor countries and lacks access to multilateral development aid needed to rehabilitate its social services, economy, and government.

"With negligible help from the international community, Somaliland continues to absorb tens of thousands of refugees repatriating from eastern Ethiopia's refugee camps," the report states. "The large-scale return home is placing additional stress on Somaliland's fragile infrastructure.

The continued lack of meaningful development assistance has limited the already weak capacity of Somaliland's government, United Nations agencies, and international nongovernmental organizations striving to properly reintegrate returnees." Many inhabitants of Somaliland, including most repatriated refugees, live in makeshift camps and slums in an economic system devastated by war and neglect. Returnees to the semi-arid desert area must rely on decrepit water systems and inadequate health care and social services for their basic needs.

"A closer look at the state of Somaliland today confirms that with proper support for refugee reintegration, the international community could play an integral role in the rehabilitation of Somaliland," the report says.

The USCR report urges international donors and the UN to view the repatriation of refugees to Somaliland as a timely opportunity to diminish the chance of future acts of international terrorism by investing in the development of a peaceful but long-forgotten corner of the Horn of Africa.

To obtain a copy of Welcome Home to Nothing: Refugees Repatriate to a Forgotten Somaliland, visit the USCR web site at Or phone USCR at 202-347-3507.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees is a non-profit, nongovernmental organization that monitors, reports, analyzes, and advocates on humanitarian assistance and protection issues affecting refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide.

Joel Frushone
Africa Policy Analyst
U.S. Committee for Refugees
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NWSuite 200
Washington, DC 20036

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