UNHCR alarmed by resumption in mortar attacks in Somalia's Mogadishu

Briefing Notes, 20 March 2012

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 20 March 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned at a resumption in mortar attacks in Mogadishu, which have claimed at least four lives in recent days. Mortars landed in a small settlement for internally displaced people in the Wardhigley district of the capital at around 0140 on Monday morning. It is reported that up to four internally displaced people, including two children, were killed.

The target of the attack is believed to have been a hostel housing pro-government forces in the nearby Villa Somalia compound, the presidential palace. But the mortars did not reach their target and instead landed among the IDPs.

This latest incident was the first such attack in Mogadishu since August 2011, when anti-government forces withdrew from the majority of districts in the capital. In late 2011, UNHCR commissioned a report 'Civilian Harm in Somalia: Creating an Appropriate Response' which details what Somalis are seeking in response to violence and focuses on assistance for civilians harmed in warfare.

There is currently no international legal obligation for parties to the conflict in Somalia to make amends to civilians adversely affected by military operations. Among the recommendations of the report is the establishment of a mechanism to track, analyse, investigate and respond to all incidents of civilian harm including loss of property, limb or life.

UNHCR calls on all parties to the conflict in Somalia to cease attacks targeting civilians and humanitarian agencies, or where there is a high risk of harm to civilians located near the intended target. Monday's attack clearly presented an unacceptable risk.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Kenya (Somalia Ops): Andreas Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931

  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Vivian Tan, mobile: +254 735 337 608

  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 91 20

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Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

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During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

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More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

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