Almost 320,000 civilians flee Somalia this year, including 20,000 to Yemen

News Stories, 21 October 2011

© UNHCR/H.Macleod
A Somali refugee cooks a meal for her family in Yemen.

GENEVA, October 21 (UNHCR) The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Somalia has forced almost 320,000 Somalis to flee their country so far this year. "While the majority are seeking safety and aid in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, many Somalis continue to head northwards to embark on the risky sea journey across the Gulf of Aden," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

He added that 20,000 new Somali refugees had reached Yemen since the beginning of the year. "In Yemen's reception centres, new arrivals have been telling our staff that drought, famine, conflict and forced conscription are the main reasons for their flight from Somalia," he said.

The increased influx is adding pressure on Yemen and the UN refugee agency. Between January and July, Somali arrivals averaged 1,600 people per month; the numbers increased to 4,500 in August and 3,290 in September this despite unrest in Yemen. An estimated 196,000 Somali refugees are now in Yemen, where UNHCR's resources are additionally strained by internal displacement that affects more than 415,000 people.

"The worsening security is making our work more dangerous and complex," Mahecic said in Geneva. Fighting in Yemen's Abyan governorate means that transporting new arrivals from reception centres along the Gulf of Aden coast to the Kharaz refugee camp has become increasingly difficult.

UNHCR's award-winning implementing partner, the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity, is now obliged to take a longer route to reach the reception centres to avoid the fighting and to reduce the frequency of convoys between the reception centres and Kharaz. UNHCR is informing new arrivals in the reception and transit centres about the current situation in Yemen and the potential risks. However, many choose not to wait and set off on foot, through conflict-affected areas.

Most new arrivals tell UNHCR that they were unaware of the situation in Yemen and the conditions they would be facing. Many left Somalia hoping they would be able to carry on to other Gulf countries or find work in Yemen. However, the deteriorating security situation has curtailed their movement, and work opportunities for refugees in Yemen are rapidly shrinking.

For these reasons some of the refugees are now considering returning to Somalia. UNHCR has a voluntary repatriation programme but only to the relatively stable northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland for refugees originating from there. However, most Somalis in Yemen are from the volatile southern and central parts of Somalia. The number of other nationals, mainly Ethiopians, arriving in the country has also increased.

The instability in Yemen is also giving greater opportunity for human traffickers and smugglers along the Red Sea coast. Reports of abductions of migrants or refugees upon arrival in Yemen persist mostly for ransom or extortion. While the main targets seem to be Ethiopian migrants looking for opportunities in Gulf countries, some Somali nationals have also been abducted.

Mahecic said insecurity often prevented patrolling humanitarian teams from reaching the new arrivals before the smugglers. "Another worrying trend has been the prevalence of abuse and sexual assaults of female refugees and migrants while at sea," he said, adding: "Together with our partners we are providing medical assistance and counselling to survivors. Information is also shared with Yemeni police for follow-up."

Meanwhile, the number of Somali refugees arriving at the sprawling refugee complex of Dadaab in north-east Kenya has been dropping sharply. "This could be due to the border military operations or the onset of heavy rains in the area. No newly-arriving refugees have approached the registration centre in the last week," UNHCR's Mahecic said.

Following a grave security incident in Dadaab last week, UNHCR and partner agencies have been continuing life-saving work for hundreds of thousands of refugees. "Our staff and more than 30 partners remain operational in Dadaab's three camps Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera as well as the new sites of Ifo 2, and Kambioos," Mahecic said.

Together with the World Food Programme, UNHCR is distributing emergency food rations and relief supplies to recent arrivals. Water trucking to the new sites is continuing, while all three hospitals in Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera camps are providing health care to the refugees. Primary schools are being run by teachers recruited among the refugee population in the camps.

UNHCR is working with the Kenyan authorities to urgently deploy more policemen in the camps to enhance security measures for refugees and aid workers alike. Dadaab is the world's biggest refugee complex, with its sprawling camps hosting more than 463,000 refugees. Over 190,000 of them arrived this year after fleeing insecurity and famine in Somalia.




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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.


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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