UNHCR dismayed at death of Somali asylum seekers off Mozambique coast

Briefing Notes, 11 June 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR was saddened to learn this week of the deaths of nine Somali asylum-seekers off the coast of Mozambique on May 30th. They were part of a larger group of 77 Somali nationals trying to reach Mozambique by boat, and 41 of whom were forced into the water. Among those on board were two women and a 14-year-old boy. Their husband and father was among the dead.

The incident occurred between Palma and Mocimboa da Praia, off the coast of Cabo Del Gado province in northeastern Mozambique. Some people were rescued by fishermen while 36 others who refused to leave the boat were eventually taken to Palma. UNHCR commends the actions of the fishermen and local authorities in saving lives.

UNHCR has sent a team to Mocimboa da Praia to seek further information. We are seeing increasing numbers of Somalis fleeing violence at home by sea. Since January of this year, close to 2,000 Somali men have arrived by boat in northeastern Mozambique. Most report having traveled directly from Mogadishu and Kismayo, with many claiming that they fled to escape forced recruitment by Al Shabaab militants. Others took to sea from Mombassa, Kenya, along with a few Ethiopians.

Most Somalis only stay a few days or weeks at Maratane refugee camp in northeast Mozambique before attempting to move on to South Africa, where they believe they will have better opportunities. Only 300 of the Somalis who arrived this year remain in the Maratane refugee camp.

UNHCR has been working with government officials in Mozambique to deal with the new arrivals of Somalis by sea. UNHCR is providing logistical and technical support to local authorities in Cabo Del Gado province to assist in receiving and relocating asylum-seekers to Maratane camp.

There are some 7,700 refugees and asylum-seekers in Mozambique, including 4,800 in Maratane refugee camp. Most are from Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, in Somalia the clashes between the Transitional Federal Government troops supported by the African Union Peace keeping force and armed opposition groups continue to displace thousands of people from their homes in Mogadishu and to kill innocent civilians.

Since the beginning of May 2010, 30,400 people have been forced to leave their homes in Mogadishu, 17,300 of them managed to flee from the capital, mainly finding refuge in the overcrowded settlements in the Afgooye corridor, already home to 366,000 displaced Somalis. An estimated 200,000 Somalis have been displaced within the country since the beginning of the year.

The overall humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating. More than 3 million people are in urgent need of life saving humanitarian assistance. Access of humanitarian agencies to the population in need is becoming increasingly difficult and challenging.

Over 580,000 Somalis live as refugees in countries neighbouring Somalia, of whom almost 40,000 fled their home country since the beginning of 2010.

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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

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Somalia: Saving LivesPlay video

Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.