UNHCR urges continued protection for asylum seekers from Southern and Central Somalia.

Briefing Notes, 28 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 28 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has released updated guidelines on the international protection needs of people fleeing Southern and Central Somalia. Although security has improved in some parts of Southern and Central Somalia, armed conflict continues. Widespread insecurity and human rights abuses continue to compel Somalis to leave their country. More than 42,000 Somalis sought asylum in neighbouring countries and elsewhere in 2013.

UNHCR's new guidelines underscore the need for governments to assess applications for international protection by Somalis from Southern and Central Somalia on the basis of reliable, up-to-date information about the situation in Mogadishu and other areas. Notice needs to be taken of the impact of the armed conflict on civilians.

We are appealing to all states to uphold their international obligations with regard to no forced returns, or non-refoulement. Somali nationals should not be forcibly returned to Somalia unless the returning state is convinced that the persons involved would not be at risk of persecution.

Southern and Central Somalia remains a very dangerous place. While there are no complete statistics on conflict-related casualties, data compiled by ACLED, a research group, shows there were more casualties in 2012 and early 2013 than in 2011. Monthly fatalities fluctuated between 100 and 600 people. In June 2013, fierce fighting resulted in 314 casualties in Kismayo alone. Civilians are at risk of being killed or wounded in crossfire between government forces and Al-Shabaab militants as well as by bomb attacks and as bystanders in targeted attacks. Even in Mogadishu, nominally under government control with the backing of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Al-Shabaab has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to stage deadly attacks.

As a result of the ongoing fighting and human rights abuses, thousands of civilians continue to be displaced both within and outside of Somalia. More than 57,800 people were newly displaced in Southern and Central Somalia between January and September 2013. As of 1 October 2013, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in this part of Somalia was estimated at 893,000, out of a total of 1.1 million IDPs countrywide. Displaced women are particularly vulnerable with consistent reports of widespread rape and perpetrators remaining unpunished.

Between January and November 2013, 21,517 Somalis sought asylum in neighbouring countries. In addition, Somalis filed 20,600 asylum claims in 44 industrialized countries in 2013, compared to 18,701 claims in 2012. While more than 33,000 spontaneous returns were recorded between January and November 2013, many may not have been permanent. As of end 2012, the number of Somali refugees worldwide was 1.136 million.

UNHCR's new guidelines on the international protection needs of people fleeing Southern and Central Somalia include a number of risk profiles. Applications by Somali asylums seekers with such profiles require especially careful examination.

We consider the options for Somalis to find protection from persecution or serious harm within Southern and Central Somalia to be limited. This is especially true for large areas that remain under the control of Al-Shabaab and its allies. At the same time, in Mogadishu protection to people at risk of persecution at the hands of Al-Shabaab is also generally not available.

The new guidelines, International Protection Considerations with Regard to People Fleeing Southern and Central Somalia, are available online at http://www.refworld.org/docid/52d7fc5f4.html

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Fatoumata Lejeune on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
  • Daniel MacIsaac +41 79 200 76 17
  • Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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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

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.