Somali refuges start returning home
By Hassan Isilow
Somali refuges living in South Africa are gradually starting to return home after their country achieved relative peace, Africa witness has reliably learnt. “Over the last four months I have sold over 200 air tickets to Somalis flying back to their country,” a ticket salesperson at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg said, on condition of anonymity since she was not authorized to speak to the media. The official said most Somalis she had served only bought one way tickets, which meant they did not intend to return to South Africa. “The money that I made here in South Africa will enable me to start an import and export business in Somalia,” Halima Sheikh, a former businesswoman in the Free State related. She said her shops were frequently attacked by robbers and she always lived in fear, but now that she is returning home to Somalia, she has a peace of mind. “East or west, home is always the best. I love South Africa, but it’s not my home country. Somalia is my home,” she stated emphatically
She is not the only one. In July, a Cape Town based Somali journalist, Barrio-Barrio, also packed his bags and returned to Mogadishu “Somalia is becoming peaceful and there are more opportunities there. So I don’t see why I should continue staying here as a refugee when I could find something better to do back home,” he told Africa witness. He said while he was grateful for the hospitality he had received during his four year stay in the Western Cape, he was ready to return home.
But not all Somalis share a similar sentiment. Some say they may never go back home, especially those who served as soldiers for warlords or the militant group Al-Shabbab. This group fears they could face reprisals in Somalia for their past actions. “A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to that which was in South Africa, is what Somalia currently needs so that it can heal its wounds,” political science student Abdullahi Ali said on Sunday, adding that Somalis should learn to forgive and forget if they are to move forward.
Meanwhile, owners of Somali restaurant and backpackers in Bellville and Mayfair are already feeling the sting of the Somali exodus. “I have reduced the amount of food that I cook at my restaurant because most of my customers have left the country for Somalia. This has greatly affected my business,” Mohamed Shibis, a restaurant owner in Mayfair said.
Somalia has experienced relative stability since the African union troops (AMISOM) managed to push out Al-Shabbab from the capital city, Mogadishu, and most recently in Kismayo, the country’s second largest city. At the same time, the Somali Parliament recently elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country’s new president. Many believe that if Mohamud was to gain wider public support, he would be in position to turn the troubled country around, which has been embroiled in a devastating civil war for over two decades. South Africa is home to about 80,000 Somali refugees, the majority of whom earn a living in the informal sector. This article first appeared on the VOC website. All rights reserved.