Numbers of Somali refugees down, but situation still dire, UN agency reports

Violence in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has forced thousands of people to flee their homes

2 July 2010 – Although the flow of Somali refugees into neighbouring countries has weakened, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today cautioned that the Horn of Africa nation’s security and humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.

Compared to last year, the number of Somalis arriving in Kenya and Yemen – the two countries which have received the greatest number of Somali refugees – are down sharply.

In Kenya, arrivals have dropped off by a third from 44,400 in the first half of 2009 to nearly 30,000 in the same period this year. In Yemen, there were some 6,700 new arrivals in the first six months of this year, compared to 13,800 during the same period in 2009.

“The reasons for this drop are not safer or more stable circumstances,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva today.

Rather, the situation is worsening and daily violence and human rights abuses continue to uproot thousands of civilians, he added.

The agency estimates that over 200,000 Somalis have been forced to flee their homes this year alone, with most remaining within the country’s borders. Government forces continue to clash with Islamist rebels.

Given the insecurity and lack of access to large parts of the impoverished country, UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies face obstacles in reaching the millions of people in need of assistance.

“Those who reach safety abroad speak of a dire situation inside the country,” Mr. Edwards said.

Somalis who have arrived in Yemen by boat have told UNHCR of the existence of one dozen checkpoints – manned by different armed groups – on the road from the capital, Mogadishu, to the northern port of Bossaso, where many trying to flee then board smugglers’ boats.

Meanwhile in Kenya, refugees said that they had difficulties leaving Somalia because of fears of being forcibly recruited to fight as they fled. There is often no transport out of the country, and even when there is, many cannot afford to pay for the trip to the border.

Unlike Kenya and Yemen, Ethiopia has witnessed a spike in arrivals from Somalia, with 12,700 Somali refugees having entered in the first half of 2010, compared to 8,400 in the same period last year.

The number of Somali refugees in the region has neared 600,000, with more than half in Kenya.

“After Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia is generating the largest number of refugees in the world,” Mr. Edwards noted, adding that there are over 1.4 million Somalis displaced within their country.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN voices dismay at deaths of Somali asylum-seekers off Mozambican coast

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews