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DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya, December 9 (UNHCR) - When the UN refugee agency starts helping refugees go back to Somalia from Kenya on their own next month, Dhahiro Hussein Ali, a 22-year-old mother of four, vows she'll be one of the first to leave.
"My love for my family is calling me back," says the soft-spoken young woman in a grey headscarf. "I miss my family - my mother, my father, my brother, my sister and most of all, my first-born, my nine-year-old boy, Hussein. My mother is keeping him"
She and her husband, Abdikadir Ibrahim Abdi, 42, fled drought and instability in Somalia in July 2011. Dhahiro, who was just 13 when she gave birth to Hussein, had been ill and unable to breastfeed him, so her mother raised him as her own. When it came time for Dhahiro to leave for Kenya, the grandmother refused to part with the boy.
"My mother said since the whole family was leaving for Kenya, she would keep the boy, so when she looked at him she could remember the whole family," Dhahiro recounts.
Now, with reports that her mother is ill, Dhahiro feels she must go home to Kismayo, one of three regions included in the pilot programme for assisted returns for refugees returning on their own to Somalia.
Some 388,000 Somali refugees live in the Dadaab refugee camp complex in north-eastern Kenya, the majority of the 475,000 registered Somali refugees in all of Kenya. Most fled their country after the 1991 overthrow of the Siad Barre regime, but others fled drought in recent years.
Relative newcomers like Abdikadir and Dhahiro are believed to be the most likely to want to go home under a pilot programme whereby UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners will support refugees returning by themselves to three areas - Baidoa, Luuq and Kismayo - beginning on January 1. Organized repatriation convoys may begin later as conditions improve in certain parts of Somalia.
This week, UNHCR will step up its consultations with Somali refugees at refugee help desks in the five camps that make up the Dadaab complex. Refugees will be able to inform UNHCR about their interest in returning to Somalia, and learn in detail what support they can get for the journey and inside Somalia.
As a farmer, Abdikadir is looking forward to being able once again to support his family, and not feeling like a beggar, as he did as a refugee. "My country has resources," he says. "God can assist me. The moment it rains, I can cultivate my fields and sustain my family with the products from the farm."
Isho Madkar Issack, a 30-year-old mother of four, says she is grateful to UNHCR for training her to become a midwife in Dadaab - skills that will help her rebuild her county when she joins the vanguard going back to Somalia in January. She says she and about 20 other women are, as they put it, mobilizing other refugee families to form their own convoy to go back to Baidao, an eight-day journey if rain does not make the unpaved roads difficult.
Others are not quite so eager. Nimo Mahat Samatar says she, her husband and their four children would be willing to go back to Luuq - but not immediately. "I want to be in the second phase," she says. "I want other people to test and if they get there safely, then I will go."
With the date for her departure less than a month away, Dhahiro sits inside her traditional round Somali tukul (shelter) and contemplates her homecoming with a mixture of emotions - patriotism and worry for her mother and son. "It's my country," she says quietly. "I love it so I'm going back."
As for the moment she finally sets eyes on her beloved first born, Hussein: "I'm so anxious to see him. I love him and am feeling lonely without him. I'm sure I'll shed tears and cry on him."
By Kitty McKinsey in Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya