UNHCR, local officials, religious leaders in northern Somalia debate asylum and Islam

News Stories, 5 October 2009

© UNHCR/A. Webster
Internally displaced Somalis in Puntland. Religious leaders are helping UNHCR to inform local communities about principles of asylum.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 5 (UNHCR) More than 40 religious leaders from around northern Somalia's Puntland region have taken part in a UNHCR-funded discussion on refugee and asylum law that will help spread awareness about the rights and needs of refugees and displaced Somalis.

The workshop was held last Saturday at Puntland State University in the town of Garowe. Government officials and UNHCR staff also attended the seminar, which looked specifically at how the concepts of asylum and protection are deeply imbedded in Islamic Shari'ah law. UNHCR plans to hold similar workshops involving religious leaders and the local authorities in other areas of Somalia.

"At the end of the workshop we developed a joint communiqué that was disseminated to local media," said Mohamed Salah, a UNHCR protection assistant working in Garowe. "This should further sensitize the [local host] population to continue helping their brothers and sisters who are in need of assistance after fleeing their homes because of the war," he added.

Before Saturday's meeting, UNHCR gave each participant a copy of a comparative study written by Cairo University law professor and dean of the law faculty, Ahmed Abu Al-Wafa. "The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari'ah and International Refugee Law," was used as a start point for the discussions.

The book, commissioned by UNHCR, says Islam's 1,400-year-old tradition of generosity toward people fleeing persecution has had more influence on modern-day international refugee law than any other historical source.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who wrote a foreword to the book, said earlier this year that "all the principles embodied in modern international refugee law are to be found in the Shari'ah. Protection of refugees, their property and families, non-refoulement [forced return], the civilian character of asylum, voluntary repatriation all are referred to in the Holy Koran."

UNHCR believes that religious leaders in Somalia should be involved in efforts to sensitize host communities to the needs and rights of the internally displaced and refugees. The refugee agency also created a leaflet with key asylum messages translated into Somali and supporting quotes from the Koran. Thousands of leaflets have been distributed since the start of September to the forcibly displaced, host communities, businessmen and the local authorities.

"Somalis are true believers; they strongly trust their local religious leaders when it comes to the interpretation of the Islamic texts. Any initiative engaging religious leaders in Somalia has an impressive impact on the population" UNHCR's Salah noted.

The workshop was held at a time when increasing numbers of people, especially Somalis and Ethiopians, are seeking shelter in northern Somalia to escape from poverty, conflict or persecution. Many seek to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Sometimes, their presence leads to tension with local communities.

By Roberta Russo and Esther Mwangi in Nairobi, Kenya

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Asylum-Seekers

UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Statistics

Numbers are important in the aid business and UNHCR's statisticians monitor them daily.

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

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

Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship Play video

Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship

"Every time I try to sleep I see what I saw in the water, what happened to me, the dead children" Thamer & Thayer, brothers from Syria, escaped war, then unrest in Libya only to be faced with death on the Mediterranean The Lampedusa boat tragedies sparked a debate on asylum policies in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Called Mare Nostrum, the operation had rescued more than 63,000 people at the time this video was published in July 2014.
Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Too Much Pain: The Voices of Refugee Women, part 1/6Play video

Too Much Pain: The Voices of Refugee Women, part 1/6

Stories of refugee women who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and are engaged to end this practice. These women explain their experiences of flight, asylum and integration in the EU.