UNHCR calls on governments to strengthen protection for Somali refugees

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has today issued new guidelines on the protection of people fleeing Somalia. The guidelines are intended to promote a consistent approach to the protection needs of persons from Somalia.

These guidelines encourage governments to assess applications for refugee status from persons from central and southern Somalia in the broadest possible way, and to extend complementary forms of international protection, where refugee status is not granted.

It is UNHCR's view that asylum seekers from central and southern Somalia are in need of international protection. Those who do not meet the criteria for refugee status under the 1951 Convention or the OAU Convention should benefit from complementary forms of international protection, as applicable in situations of generalized violence or armed conflict. In view of the nature of the conflict and the dramatic humanitarian situation, UNHCR does not believe that Somali refugees can find an internal relocation alternative in central or southern Somalia. Furthermore, we consider that an internal flight alternative in Somaliland or Puntland is generally not available for any Somali not originating from these territories.

Although most asylum countries will examine claims on an individual basis, we encourage countries facing large numbers of arrivals to grant protection to persons from southern and central Somalia on a group basis. This is already the case in neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen.

Over recent months UNHCR has made clear its alarm at the worsening security and humanitarian situation there. Conditions in Somalia have been steadily deteriorating for some time and are particularly acute in the central and southern areas of the country. UNHCR and other organizations providing aid face great difficulties in reaching the millions of needy within Somalia.

We continue to see high levels of displacement internally as well as to neighbouring countries and further afield. There are an estimated 1.4 million displaced persons within Somalia and approximately 575,000 Somali refugees in neighbouring countries. In 2009, Somalis were the third-largest group of asylum applicants in the industrialized world, with over 22,000 claims.

It is our view that involuntary returns to central and southern Somalia under today's circumstances would place individuals at risk. We are appealing to all governments to observe these guidelines and also to focus their energies on helping those individuals in Somalia and neighbouring countries who are bearing the brunt of this unfolding international tragedy.

Read the guidelines here: UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Somalia