As fighting escalates in Mogadishu, deportations to the capital continue

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.

Dozens of Somali civilians have been killed and scores wounded in this week's escalation of fighting between government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia in Mogadishu. Many more have been driven out of their homes by the continuing violence.

UNHCR deplores the continuation of indiscriminate fighting in Somalia where, very often, civilian facilities and homes in heavily populated areas of the capital become targets.

The events of this week underline the seriousness of UNHCR's repeated calls on governments to assess asylum claims from people originating from central and southern Somalia in the broadest possible way. Where refugee status is not granted, UNHCR is advising governments to extend complementary forms of international protection, which would allow Somalis legal residence until conditions improve for safe return.

More than 300,000 out of Somalia's estimated 1.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) are sheltering in Mogadishu alone. Vast majority of the displaced live in poor and degrading conditions on makeshift sites in southern and central Somalia.

UNHCR is deeply troubled by the reports of continuing deportations of Somali refugees and asylum seekers from Saudi Arabia to the conflict-stricken Somali capital. According to our local partners in Mogadishu, some 1,000 Somalis were deported from Saudi Arabia in June alone. For July, the total so far of reported forced returns from Saudi Arabia is already estimated to be close to 1,000 people.

According to monitoring reports we received from Mogadishu, the majority of deportees say they fled Somalia due to conflict, indiscriminate violence and human rights abuses. Most say they originate from southern and central Somalia, including Mogadishu. The majority of deportees are women, including some extremely vulnerable cases, such as that of a split refugee family - a young woman, who fled the violence in Somalia in 2007, was detained on her way to the market in Saudi Arabia and deported back to Mogadishu with her two infants (a three-year old and a six month old child).

A number of deportees interviewed claimed to have initially fled to neighboring countries, including Yemen, to seek asylum. Many said they approached the UNHCR office there and registered as refugees.

The majority of the deportees interviewed said they have worked in Saudi Arabia for some time and most were not in contact with the UNHCR office in Riyadh. Prior to their deportation, they report being held in detention facilities for several weeks under conditions which many described as appalling.

UNHCR considers such deportations to be incompatible with UNHCR's guidelines on international protection needs of Somali refugees and asylum seekers. Given the deadly violence in Mogadishu, UNHCR is urging the Saudi authorities to refrain from future deportations on humanitarian grounds.

We are in dialogue with the Saudi authorities about introducing a joint screening procedure before decisions on deportations to Mogadishu are taken. This would be an encouraging measure.

UNHCR has been calling consistently on the governments to provide protection to Somali civilians fleeing the conflict, violence and grave human rights abuses in their homeland. It is our view that involuntary returns to central and southern Somalia under today's security and humanitarian circumstances in the country place people at risk. We again urge all governments to closely observe these guidelines and to focus their efforts on helping those forced to flee Somalia.