UNHCR chief visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antόnio Guterres visited the Somali
capital today to support continued progress toward peace in a country
torn by more than two decades of conflict. His visit was timed to
coincide with the eve of Ramadan to express his solidarity with a
population that, he said, "has suffered on a scale that is beyond
Inside Somalia, there are an estimated 1.1 million people still
displaced from their homes. More than 1 million more are living in exile
in neighbouring countries, mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen, but
also in significant numbers in Djibouti as well as in Europe, the United
States and Australia.
With parts of Somalia showing signs of increasing stability,
countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the potential to
encourage refugees to return. Meanwhile, small numbers of Somalis have
spontaneously taken the decision to move back to Mogadishu and other
areas under government control.
"This is a moment of hope for the people of Somalia. UNHCR likes
nothing more than to help people go back home, based on their own free
will and when conditions are met for a safe and dignified return,"
Guterres said. "UNHCR will be working with Somalia and the host
countries to be prepared when the time arrives and peace prevails."
At the same time, the security situation is fragile, particularly in
central-south Somalia, where most of the refugees come from.
Humanitarian access to most parts of this region is limited, hampering
effective engagement with communities, delivery of humanitarian
assistance and monitoring. The High Commissioner's visit comes barely
three weeks after a deadly attack June 19 on the UN compound in
Return to Somalia should be, first and foremost, voluntary," Guterres
said. "At this time, the vast majority of Somalis in exile are still in
need of asylum as conditions are not yet safe for a rushed, large-scale
Guterres said all parties could work on a phased approach, assisting
well-informed refugees who wish to return home and also facilitating
limited group returns to specific areas considered safe.
In Mogadishu, the High Commissioner met Deputy Prime Minister Fawzia
Yusuf H. Adam and Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari as well as
other senior government and UN officials. Adam highlighted the need to
build new housing, health facilities and schools. Under these
conditions, she said she was confident that "educated Somalis will come
back and they will lift the country up. If peace comes back they will
all come back."
Guterres also met with staff from UNHCR's Mogadishu office and
expressed his condolences for UN colleagues who lost their lives in the
June 19 attack. "We are stronger than ever, more determined than ever.
We are here to stay," one national staff member, Ali Abdullahi, said.
Staff Representative Zakaria Ibrahim added, "We are here for the
Meanwhile, Somalis continue to flee their country, albeit in smaller
numbers than in recent years. In the first six months of 2013, some
21,000 Somali refugee arrivals were reported around the region compared
to 78,000 in all of 2012 and 295,000 in 2011.
Most, almost 13,000 people, fled to Ethiopia, already host to some
240,000 Somali refugees. Yemen has received almost 6,000 new arrivals – most having made the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden. As of May, Yemen was hosting some 230,000 Somali refugees.
At least 20,000 people have crossed into Somalia from countries of
asylum this year. About 12,000 are estimated to be actual refugee
returns – the majority from Kenya, which
hosts more than 490,000 Somali refugees. A number of these cross-border
movements may be seasonal as refugees return to plant crops ahead of the
Inside Somalia, UNHCR has helped more than 16,000 internally
displaced people return voluntarily to their homes this year in areas of
"The Somali situation will remain one of UNHCR's top priorities,"
Guterres said. "I hope peace will create the conditions inside Somalia
to do what every refugee wants – to go back home."
By Melissa Fleming in Mogadishu, Somalia