UNHCR chief in Eid solidarity visit to Horn of Africa

Briefing Notes, 30 August 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 August 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is on a three-day visit to the Horn of Africa to show solidarity with displaced Somalis during Eid il-Fitr.

Over the Eid period, UNHCR is airlifting 240 metric tonnes of aid from Saudi Arabia to Somalia. The assistance comprises dry goods and special Eid packages of ready-to-eat meals, orange juice, sweets and biscuits. Our partner Islamic Relief will distribute the packages to internally displaced Somalis and the urban poor in Mogadishu and Lower Shabelle region.

The goal remains to provide as much aid as possible within Somalia so that people affected by famine and conflict will not have to undertake the arduous journey to neighbouring countries in search of assistance.

While the Somali outflow into Ethiopia and Kenya has slowed, the camps continue to face challenges with the recent arrivals. In Ethiopia's Dollo Ado area, Kobe camp has seen a slight decrease in the overall mortality rate (from 5.7 deaths/10,000 people/day last week to 4.9/10,000/day this week) but a worrying rise in deaths among children under five years of age (from 12.9/10,000/day last week to 15.3/10,000/day this week). According to our partner agency MSF, measles is the main cause of deaths in Kobe camp, accounting for 68 per cent of deaths. Other contributing factors are malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhea.

Although health services and nutritional feeding programmes are available, parents are not taking their children for continuing treatment. Decentralization of services therefore remains a key priority in addressing high mortality rates. In addition to the community outreach programme, UNICEF's mobile health clinic will this week start work in Kobe camp to encourage refugees to access the medical facilities available.

A UNHCR airlift arrived in Addis Ababa last weekend, bringing aid for up to 20,000 Somali refugees in the Gode area, 250 km north-east of Dollo Ado. Trucks have been loaded with supplies such as plastic sheets, blankets and sleeping mats. It could take about four days for the trucks to cover some 1,400 km of mostly rough roads leading to Gode in the current rainy season.

Meanwhile in Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex, some 30,000 recent arrivals have so far been moved from the outskirts to the Ifo Extension and Kambioos sites. We continue to pitch new rows of tents, and focus on the immediate provision of basic hygiene services, namely by installing water systems and digging latrine pits.

The sandy nature of the soil poses a number of logistical challenges as standard pegs for tents may not hold in case of strong winds and latrine pits can cave in if not additionally strengthened. Another hurdle is the condition of local roads, which in some locations are barely passable paths in the sand. This makes movements of heavy machinery necessary to drill the sufficient number of boreholes extremely difficult. Meanwhile potable water has to be trucked daily from a number of existing boreholes to Kambioos and Ifo Extension.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi UNHCR Kenya office: Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile: +254 773 995 975
  • In Kenya, UNHCR Somalia Office: Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931
  • In Kenya, Dadaab, Andrej Mahecic on mobile +254 734 330 023
  • In Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +251 911 208 901
  • Laura Padoan on tel: +252 618389306
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    UNHCR country pages

    The High Commissioner

    António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

    Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

    Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

    For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

    Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

    Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

    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


    In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

    As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


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