Somalia displacement update

Briefing Notes, 21 July 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 21 July 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As the number of Somali civilians driven out of their homes by the conflict in Mogadishu rises, growing insecurity is making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to gain access and provide assistance to latest victims of the Somali civil war.

We now estimate that some 223,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the 7 May, when Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam militia groups jointly launched attacks against government forces in several districts of the Somali capital. About 20,000 have fled in the last two weeks alone.

We are greatly concerned about the plight of the large number of internally displaced people (IDP) who have found refuge in the sweltering makeshift sites on the Afgooye Corridor, southwest of the capital, sheltering more than 400,000 IDPs from previous conflicts. These IDPs are packed in a congested strip of land with little or no basic facilities.

Our local partners in Somalia report that domestic humanitarian organizations are overstretched and struggling to meet the basic needs of the newly arrived. There is a lack of adequate shelter, sanitation facilities and clean drinking water. The situation has grown worse following recent torrential rains. The lack of sufficient latrines poses a major health risk.

The continued fighting and worsening of the security situation in Somalia is hampering the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance from the port of Mogadishu to Afgooye and other parts of Somalia, exacerbating one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

This week's scheduled distribution of 4,000 UNHCR aid kits in Mogadishu and outlying areas, for example, had to be postponed due to security concerns

In addition, due to the latest incidents in Baidoa and Wajid, where militants occupied and looted two UN compounds yesterday, our assistance efforts in the adjacent region have virtually ground to a halt.

We again appeal to the warring parties in Somalia to respect basic international humanitarian and human rights principles and to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population as well as for the humanitarian workers trying to help the victims.

Meanwhile in north-eastern Kenya, we continue to experience a major influx of new arrivals from Somalia in the UNHCR-run Dadaab refugee complex. Since January, we have received 39,000 refugees from Somalia despite the fact that the Kenya-Somalia border remains officially closed. The majority of the refugees are from the Lower and Middle Juba regions and Mogadishu.

Some 7,000 new arrivals were registered at the camps in June, up from 5,000 in May.

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the massive congestion in the three adjacent Kenyan sites that make up the Dadaab complex, and the major health risks that this overcrowding may pose to the refugees. Initially designed to accommodate 90,000 people, the camps are currently hosting more than 286,000 people.

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Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.

Somalia/Ethiopia

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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