The United Nations refugee agency issued new guidelines today, calling on governments to enhance their protection of people escaping the “unfolding international tragedy” in Somalia.
The guidelines seek to ensure that the protection needs of Somalis are dealt with consistently. They also encourage nations to assess applications for refugee status for people from the war-torn country in the broadest way and to extend other forms of international protection when refugee status is not granted.
Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that that the agency believes that asylum-seekers from central and southern Somalia are in need of international protection.
Those who do not meet the criteria to be granted refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1969 Refugee Convention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), she said, should still be protected, as applicable in situations of generalized violence or armed conflict.
The Horn of Africa nation continues to be plagued by fighting between Government forces and its supporters and Islamist rebels. It remains the scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), some 575,000 refugees and nearly 3 million people dependent on aid, out of a total population of nearly 8 million.
“In view of the nature of the conflict and the dramatic humanitarian situation, UNHCR does not believe that Somalia refugees can find an internal relocation alternative in central of southern Somalia,” Ms. Fleming stressed.
Further, she said, there is no possibility for Somalis not originally from the self-declared autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland to take shelter there.
Although most countries look into refugee claims on an individual basis, UNHCR is calling on countries facing large numbers of arrivals to grant protection to people from Somalia on a group basis.
“It is our view that involuntary returns to central and southern Somalia under today’s circumstances would place individuals at risk,” the agency’s spokesperson said.
Last week, Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Aleinikoff said that thousands of Somalis fleeing the violence in their homeland are expected to cross into neighbouring countries this year, adding to already overcrowded and under-resourced conditions in camps.
“The burden for these countries is enormous,” he said after a two-week visit to camps in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for refugees and IDPs.
“If there was one resounding call from the refugees we met with it was this: please find me a new home,” Mr. Aleinikoff added.
Some of the camps have housed Somalis since the Somali Government collapsed in 1991, casting the country into chaos between political factions, armed groups and clans.
Recently the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), strengthened by the African Union (AU) and with logistical support mandated by the Security Council, has fought Islamic militant rebel groups in the political arena, and on Somali streets.