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UNHCR Chief visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan

Press Releases, 9 July 2013

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antόnio Guterres visited the Somali capital today to demonstrate his support for continued progress toward peace in a country torn by over two decades of conflict. His visit was timed to coincide with the eve of Ramadan to express his solidarity with a population that, he said, "has suffered on a scale that is beyond measurement."

Inside Somalia, there are an estimated 1.1 million people still displaced from their homes. Over one million more are living in exile as refugees in neighboring countries, mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen, but also in significant numbers in Djibouti as well as in Europe, the U.S. and Australia.

With Somalia showing signs of increasing stability in parts of the country, countries hosting Somali refugees are considering the potential to encourage refugees to return. Meanwhile, small numbers of Somalis have spontaneously taken the decision to move back to Mogadishu and other areas under Government control.

"This is a moment of hope for the people of Somalia. UNHCR likes nothing more than to help people go back home," he added, "based on their own free will, and when conditions are met for a safe and dignified return. UNHCR will be working with Somalia and the host countries to be prepared when the time arrives and peace prevails."

At the same time, the security situation is fragile, particularly in Central/South Somalia, where the majority of refugees originate. Humanitarian access to most parts of this region is limited, hampering effective engagement with communities, delivery of humanitarian assistance and monitoring. The High Commissioner's visit comes just three weeks after a deadly attack in Mogadishu on the UN Compound.

"Return to Somalia should be first and foremost, voluntary," Guterres said. "At this time, the vast majority of Somalis in exile are still in need of asylum as conditions are not yet safe for a rushed, large-scale repatriation."

Mr. Guterres said all parties can work on a phased approach, assisting well-informed refugees requesting to return home and also facilitating limited group returns to specific areas considered safe.

In Mogadishu, the High Commissioner met Deputy Prime Minister Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam and Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari as well as other senior government and UN officials. Ms. Adam highlighted the need to build new housing, health facilities and schools. Under these conditions she was confident that, "educated Somalis will come back and they will lift the country up. If peace comes back they will all come back."

Mr. Guterres also met with staff from UNHCR's Mogadishu office and expressed his condolences for UN colleagues who lost their lives in the 19 June attack. "We are stronger than ever, more determined than ever. We are here to stay," one national staff member, Ali Abdullahi told Mr. Guterres. Staff Representative Zakaria Ibrahim added, "we are here for the people."

Meanwhile, Somalis continue to flee their country from tense areas of conflict, albeit in smaller numbers than in recent years. In the first six months of 2013, some 21,000 new Somali refugee arrivals were reported around the region compared to 78,000 in all of 2012 and 295,000 in 2011. Most, almost 13,000 people, fled to Ethiopia, already host to some 240,000 Somali refugees. Yemen has received almost 6,000 new arrivals most having made the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden. As of May, Yemen was hosting 229,447 Somali refugees.

At least 20,000 people have crossed into Somalia from countries of asylum this year. 12,000 are estimated to be actual refugee returns the majority from Kenya, which as of May hosted 492,046 Somali refugees. A number of these cross-border movements may be seasonal as refugees return to plant crops ahead of the rainy season.

Inside Somalia, UNHCR has helped more than 16,000 internally displaced people return voluntarily to their homes so far this year in areas of relative stability.

"The Somali situation will remain one of UNHCR's top priorities," Guterres said. "I hope peace will create the conditions inside Somalia to do what every refugee wants to go back home."

Press contacts

Nairobi

Kitty McKinsey +254 735 337 608 mckinsey@unhcr.org

Andy Needham +254 733 120 931 needham@unhcr.org

Travelling with High Commissioner Guterres

Melissa Fleming +41 79 557 9122 fleming@unhcr.org

Geneva

Adrian Edwards +41 79 557 9120 edwards@unhcr.org

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East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

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.

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

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.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
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