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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


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


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




UNHCR country pages

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.

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Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed wins Nansen Refugee Award

Hawa Aden Mohamed, a former refugee whose visionary work has transformed the lives of thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, is the winner of the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award. Widely known as "Mama" Hawa, she is the founder and director of an ambitious education programme in Galkayo, Somalia, that helps women and girls secure their rights, develop vital skills and play a more active role in society. View a slideshow of Mama Hawa's work at the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, which offers literacy courses and vocational training as well as food and other forms of humanitarian relief to internally displaced people [IDP].

Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed wins Nansen Refugee Award

Photo Essay: Dollo Ado, a Year After the Somalia Famine

In mid-2011, Dollo Ado was at the heart of a refugee crisis as a wave of Somalis facing violence and starvation at home trekked through the desert to seek safety in the small, remote border town in eastern Ethiopia. Many arrived exhausted, sick and emaciated, often carrying weak or dying children.

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.

Today, the Dollo Ado area hosts five camps, with a total population of nearly 170,000 refugees. Several hundred new refugees arrive from Somalia every week. While the population of the newest camp, Buramino, is reaching 30,000, UNHCR and the government have agreed on the location for a sixth camp.

Photo Essay: Dollo Ado, a Year After the Somalia Famine

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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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