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Somali refugees pin hopes on camel-herding - in snowy Norway

News Stories, 26 January 2006

© Olav Hansen, Hamar Arbeiderblad
Bactrian camels, like these at the Amadeus Animal Park in Southern Norway, have no problems surviving the Norwegian winter as long as they are given proper shelter at night.

OSLO Jan. 26 (UNHCR) Camels are rare in Norway, mostly seen in papier-mâché form during Christmas pageants, but a group of Somali refugees resettled in the Norwegian countryside is now hoping to keep as many as 20 of the humped animals.

"Many of my friends just simply cannot wait until the camels get here," said Abdirahman A. Isman, a refugee from Somalia who has lived in the rural municipality of Loeten for eight years.

Keeping camels in Norway might sound a bit eccentric, but the hope is that these camels will create jobs and improve the integration of refugees resettled to Loeten.

"Many of our refugees, particularly those from Somalia, have extensive knowledge and experience in camel husbandry, and why shouldn't we an agricultural community use this resource to our benefit?" asked Wenche Stenseth, in charge of integrating refugees in Loeten.

Despite Norway's bone-chilling winters, camel species native to Mongolia and Tibet should have no problems coping with snow and sub-zero temperatures, she said.

As Loeten, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Oslo, is also vying to become a major ski resort with hundreds of lodges and holiday apartments, many are hoping the camels would become a tourist attraction too.

"We think this is a great idea," Isman said, who kept a herd of around hundred camels in Somalia before being forced to flee his native country.

"Visitors could come here to ride the camels, buy souvenirs of camel hide and hair, eat and drink camel meat and milk, which are very tasty," he added.

The plan is to keep the camels at local farms, where they would be jointly taken care of by farmers and Somali refugees. An additional benefit of this set-up is that it would aid in the integration of the local Somali population as well, Stenseth said.

Norway annually welcomes 1,500 UNHCR refugees for resettlement, and every year about 10 of these find a new home in Loeten.

In total, the township of 7,500 has received several hundreds of refugees over the years, and now has large and vibrant international community that includes many immigrants as well.

"They really constitute a massive resource, and we are stupid if we do not take advantage of that," said Stenseth.

"All refugees in Loeten want to get a job, contribute and pay their taxes to the society," she added. "Camel husbandry can create many new jobs within various fields, not only for refugees but for all. It's only our minds that set the limit."

Stenseth has just sent an application to the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDI) for a grant of some $125,000 for a feasibility study on the project, and both she and Loeten's Somali population are eagerly awaiting its outcome.

"Even though it might be a bit unusual, we see this as an ordinary application for financial support and will process it accordingly," said Geir Halmrast, head of IMDI's operations in eastern Norway.

"Generally speaking, we see it as very positive that people consider new and innovative ways to improve integration, particularly when these build on the resources and skills of the refugees," he concluded.

By Paal Aarsaether in Oslo, Norway




UNHCR country pages

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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