Somali refugee population in Horn of Africa passes one million, but exodus slows

Briefing Notes, 17 July 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 17 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Somalia's refugee exodus crossed a new threshold this past week, with more than a million people now having fled the country for the surrounding region, according to the latest UNHCR data. The most recent arrivals continue to cite insecurity and dwindling food resources as the main reasons for their flight.

Despite passing the one million mark, our data for the main arrival countries of Kenya and Ethiopia also shows lower but steady numbers of people leaving Somalia. In the first six months of 2012 some 30,000 refugee arrivals were registered in the region. The conflict and the worst drought in decades forced more than 137,000 Somalis to leave their homes during the first six months of last year. For the year as a whole some 294,000 refugees registered in camps in the surrounding region.

The situation in most of the southern and central part of Somalia remains fluid and unstable, though there appears to be relative calm is some areas. The drought has been less severe this year, yet the prospects for the harvest next month are poor. Many people struggle to cope, as livelihoods remain extremely fragile.

As part of the overall humanitarian effort, UNHCR alone has distributed aid to some than 177,000 displaced inside Somalia since January. Together with our partners we reached more than 526,000 displaced Somalis in need of assistance. Priority has been given to the border areas and Mogadishu as these areas receive newly displaced people who have travelled significant distances.

Somalia is also going through a complex if tentative period of transition. In less than six weeks the difficult and slow political transition is scheduled to move into a new and yet more critical stage. Before the end of August the country is expected to have a new constitution, a new parliament, and a new president and government.

UNHCR believes that humanitarian crises must ultimately be solved through political solutions. The next few months are an important stage in the search for solutions to the suffering that has afflicted Somalia for two decades. Somali people carry the primary responsibility for bringing peace and stability to their own country. We do note, however, that the international community has a significant responsibility to support Somalis in bringing about a positive outcome.

Somalia is one of the world's longest and worst refugee crises. In the past decade only two other conflicts the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq have forced more than a million people to flee their homes.

The pressure on communities hosting Somali refugees is massive as the Somali crisis continues to affect the entire Horn of Africa region and beyond. Neighbouring countries also need continued international support. In addition to the million refugees in surrounding countries, more than 1.3 million Somalis are internally displaced. This means that a third of Somalia's estimated 7.5 million population lives in forced displacement.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Somalia office, Andreas Needham,on mobile: +254 733 120 931
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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To deal with the mass influx, UNHCR and the Ethiopian government built three new refugee camps. The agency and its partners also set up critical nutrition programmes in the camps. Large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, combined with mass vaccinations and other public health measures, saved numerous lives.

One year on, the malnutrition rates among children have begun to stabilize. The number of new arrivals, although steady due to continued violence and poor rains, has dwindled and many people have moved from tents into semi-permanent housing. UNHCR's main focus is to improve lives in the camp by launching livelihood programmes and environmental projects for refugees and the host communities.

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