UNHCR chief visits Mogadishu, urges massive humanitarian assistance

News Stories, 1 September 2011

© UNHCR/S.Modola
Internally displaced Somali women collect UNHCR aid supplies at the Maajo settlement in Mogadishu this week.

MOGADISHU, Somalia, September 1 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres urged the international community to rapidly increase aid to displaced Somalis during a landmark visit to the capital, Mogadishu.

"We are seeing here a deadly combination of conflict and drought and the misery is out of proportion to what is being done," the High Commissioner said on Wednesday during a visit to a settlement for internally displaced people (IDP) located on the grounds of the city's crumbling cathedral. They have fled drought, famine and fighting.

"The whole humanitarian community needs to scale up assistance to reach people wherever they are in Somalia," added Guterres, who was making the first visit to Mogadishu by a UNHCR chief since the 1990s.

For most of the approximately 400,000 displaced people in and around Mogadishu, aid is hard to come by and survival is a daily struggle. In the past two months, more than 100,000 Somalis, mostly livestock farmers, have fled to the capital from the drought-scorched regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle.

During his visit, Guterres saw large numbers of Somalis camped in different parts of the city and in urgent need of lifesaving aid. At the cathedral site he met families who had been waiting for days or weeks to receive assistance. Surviving on donations from the local population, they live a hand-to-mouth existence and many are in poor health.

At the Maajo settlement on the city outskirts, the High Commissioner visited during a UNHCR distribution of plastic sheeting and cooking utensils. One visibly exhausted woman said she had left her land in Lower Shabelle nine days earlier to seek aid in the capital after all her livestock had died because of the drought.

Clutching a two-year-old boy, she told Guterres that she had left her five other children behind with her mother. "I am very worried about them," she said, "I left our last bit of food behind, but I think now it is finished."

Speaking to journalists who accompanied him to Mogadishu, Guterres pointed to the "enormous difficulties of access and capacity" for humanitarian aid workers trying to help the needy amid insecurity. "My main worry is if there is not enough assistance the humanitarian tragedy we are witnessing will get worse," he said.

The UN estimates that one in three Somalis is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and a third of all children living in south-central Somalia are malnourished.

Escorted by the African Union (AU) peacekeepers, the UNHCR delegation passed buildings destroyed by warfare or damaged by bullets, rockets or artillery shells. But there was also a lot of life on the streets and many shops doing a brisk business encouraging signs of a city attempting to recover after years of conflict and chaos.

The security situation has improved in central Mogadishu since the withdrawal earlier this month of Al Shabaab militia forces to the outskirts. Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Mohamud Hajji claimed that the city was fully under the control of the Transitional Federal Government and AU peacekeepers, "but we need more support for the whole country."

In a meeting with High Commissioner Guterres, Somalia's President Sharif Ahmed expressed concern about the spread of diseases such as cholera in IDP settlements. The leader of the transitional government cited the need to "immediately feed the displaced and aid the people we can't get to. "

By Melissa Fleming in Mogadishu, Somalia

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Crisis in Horn of Africa

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Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

The High Commissioner

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

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

Somalia/Ethiopia

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.

Somalia/Ethiopia

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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