New challenges in Somalia, relief efforts under pressure in Kenya and Ethiopia

Briefing Notes, 29 November 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 November 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are concerned about Al Shabaab's announcement yesterday, permanently revoking work permissions to a number of UN organizations including UNHCR in parts of Somalia under their control.

This comes at the time of a dire humanitarian crisis in southern and central parts of Somalia. After drought and famine, continued fighting and heavy rains further aggravate already dramatic condition of displaced Somali civilians. More than two thirds of Somalia's estimated 1.46 million internally displaced people live in southern and central parts of the country and humanitarian needs there are immense.

We are assessing the impact of this latest development on our humanitarian operations in these parts of Somalia.

Continuing military operations and heavy rains are limiting the movements of displaced population in Somalia's Gedo region bordering Kenya. There have been no cross-border movements between Dobley in Somalia and Liboi in Kenya or vice-versa. People are unable to move as the rains make roads impassable. Others are reluctant to move, fearing ambushes or getting caught in the crossfire while on the move.

However, there are reports of over 500 people, including children, travelling on foot from Qooqaani, Tabta (both in Gedo region) and Afmadow (Lower Juba) towards the border town of Dobley. They cite a lack of food in their towns, cut off by the recent rains and military activity. Some people who have already arrived in Dobley told our staff that they were forced to leave their homes due to lack of food. Even those with means were unable to buy food. They indicated that they are willing to return as soon as the situation improves and are not planning to cross the border in order to reach Dadaab. A number of agencies are operational in Dobley, undertaking distributions of food and other assistance.

In Mogadishu, we noted a profound change in the root causes driving the forced displacement. While drought accounted for the vast majority of displacement in the Somali capital during the first three quarters of this year, as of October we have seen 8,300 people displaced by conflict in the capital and just 500 displaced as a result of the drought.

Overall, our partners and staff are reporting that the movements into Mogadishu from other regions have declined compared to previous months, mainly due to fighting in Daynile and Heliwa districts. Reported displacements were mostly within Mogadishu districts and also from Daynile to Hodan district.

In neighbouring Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps, insecurity continues to hamper UNHCR's operations. It has been several weeks since the authorities stopped registering new arrivals. Aid agencies cannot assess the number and condition of new arrivals as our movements are still limited in the camps.

More than 360 refugees have been affected by cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. Most are treated as outpatient cases and there is a need for more supplies of oral rehydration salts and other treatments. At the Kambioos site, the mortality rate has decreased and it is expected that the situation will further stabilize following food distributions over the weekend.

Despite security restrictions, the authorities managed to complete a mass oral polio vaccination campaign for all refugee children under five years of age.

Efforts are ongoing to enhance security measures in Dadaab, including the deployment of additional policemen. Refugees from Hagadera camp are conducting road patrols to help secure access to the camps.

In Ethiopia's Dollo Ado camps, we're seeing high rates of severe acute malnutrition (8 per cent) and global acute malnutrition (14 per cent) among refugee children under five at the transit centre. This is partly due to the low uptake of the wet feeding program. In response, UNHCR and partners are expanding the program to all children up to the age of 10, and adding milk powder to the porridge to boost nutrient levels.

The fifth camp in that area, Bur Amino, is ready to receive the first batch of more than 7,000 refugees from the transit centre as of tomorrow (Wednesday 30 November). The transfers from the Dollo Ado transit centre will start initially with 500 people and will increase gradually until all the refugees are moved to the new site.

Meanwhile, access to these areas is increasingly difficult due to heavy rains. The roads are intermittently impassable and the local airstrip is often flooded preventing flights from landing. This is seriously affecting our supplies and operations as we run low on fuel, electricity and safe drinking water.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Kenya (Kenya office): Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Nairobi, Kenya (Regional office): Vivian Tan on mobile +254 735 337 608,
  • Needa Jehu-Hoyah on mobile +254 734 564 018
  • In Nairobi, Kenya (Somalia office): Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931
  • In Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +251 911 208 901
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile: +41 79 200 76 17



UNHCR country pages

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.


Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to ServePlay video

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to Serve

War forced Lim Bol Thong to flee South Sudan, putting his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold. As a refugee in the Kule camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, he has found another way to serve. Just 21 years old, Lim started teaching chemistry at the school's primary school and last year was promoted to Vice Principal.
Return to SomaliaPlay video

Return to Somalia

Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee CampPlay video

Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he met with the Presidents of the two countries, as well as Somali refugees and returnees.