In Kenya, UNHCR chief discusses solutions for Somali refugees

Press Releases, 10 July 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres met Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku today to discuss the situation in Somalia and Kenya's interests in seeing Somali refugees here returning home.

"For the first time in over two decades, there is a chance to establish normalcy," Guterres said. "Consolidating peace is very challenging and Somalia is fragile, but the process is moving in the right direction."

While underlining the fragility of the situation in Somalia, the High Commissioner encouraged the countries in the region to work with UNHCR and refugees themselves to find the best solution for every refugee.

Mr. Guterres told Kenyan officials it is time to move from "care and maintenance" of Somali refugees in their country to solutions "where the return of refugees is fully voluntary, and conducted in safety and dignity."

UNHCR will work with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia to establish a tripartite commission on standards and procedures for voluntary repatriation. Mr. Guterres is planning to propose similar commissions for other major Somali refugee hosting countries. He travels on Thursday to Ethiopia for high-level talks.

In his meetings in Mogadishu on Tuesday and Nairobi today, Mr. Guterres proposed a phased approach, starting by assisting refugees who are spontaneously returning to Somalia. The next step would be a pilot project under which UNHCR could help assist groups of refugees return to a number of selected places in Somalia judged to be safe and stable. As conditions inside Somalia become conducive this would be followed by enhanced facilitation and finally the promotion of repatriation.

"If we do these returns properly, they can be a positive factor for development in Somalia," he said. "On the other hand, if huge numbers of refugees go home prematurely, they could contribute to destabilization."

Mr. Guterres noted that the situation in Jubaland, the region where a large majority of refugees in Kenya originate, is tense, and humanitarian actors including UNHCR are unable to access certain areas to deliver aid and monitor the situation. Also, Somalis continue to flee violence, although in smaller numbers than in previous years. "This is a moment of hope for Somalia," Mr. Guterres said, "It all depends on how things evolve."

Mr. Guterres also expressed appreciation for Kenya's generous policy toward refugees and a partnership that for UNHCR represents "one of the most important in the world for refugee protection." There are now over 600,000 registered Somali refugees in Kenya.

Press contacts


Emmanuel Nyabera +254 733 99 59 75

Kitty McKinsey +254 735 337 608

Andy Needham +254 733 120 931

Travelling with High Commissioner Guterres

Melissa Fleming +41 79 557 9122


Adrian Edwards +41 79 557 9120




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.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

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

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Somalia: Saving LivesPlay video

Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.