UNHCR concerned about deportations to Mogadishu as fighting continues
UNHCR condemns continuing violence in Somalia, saying that dozens of Somali civilians had been killed and scores wounded in this week's escalation.
GENEVA, July 30 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday condemned continuing violence in Somalia, saying that dozens of Somali civilians had 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's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, said in Geneva. "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," she added.
Fleming told journalists that the events of the past week week underlined 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. Most of the displaced live in poor and degrading conditions on makeshift sites in southern and central Somalia.
Fleming also said UNHCR was "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," Fleming said.
According to reports received by UNHCR from Mogadishu, the majority of deportees said they fled Somalia due to conflict, indiscriminate violence and human rights abuses. Most said 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 number of deportees interviewed claimed to have initially fled to neighbouring 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 had worked in Saudi Arabia for some time and most were not in contact with the UNHCR office in Riyadh. Prior to their deportation, they reported 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," UNHCR's Fleming said.
"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," she added.
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. The refugee agency believes 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," Fleming said.