Somali refugees face humanitarian crisis
Publisher: The Standard, Kenya
Author: By David Ohito
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

The need to restore peace in Somalia has gained new urgency after the United Nations warned in a newly released report that millions of refugees are at risk in Somalia and Kenya.

On the heels of the UN report, news from Somalia indicates that Al Shabaab insurgents — largely blamed for the crisis — have banned up to 16 aid agencies, including the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (Unicef), putting at risk the lives of hundreds of infants and children under the age of five.

The number of people in need of life-saving assistance in Somalia alone is estimated at 3.3 million. UN organizations "banned" by the militants include UNHCR, Unicef, World Health Organisation (WHO), and UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU). The UN has warned that nearly 250,000 people face imminent starvation in southern Somalia, the main base for Al Shabaab, with several areas under famine or emergency conditions.

The UN report also reveals the scale of Kenya's burden as the biggest host of Somali refugees among member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (Igad).

As many as 521,000 refugees are being hosted in and around Dadaab refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya, most of them Somalis who have fled war and drought in their country.

The result is a deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Somalia and Kenyan districts close to the shared border.

armed raids

As Kenya intensifies its diplomatic offensive to beef up support for its military intervention against Al Shabaab insurgents in Somalia, whom it blames for the humanitarian crisis, the UN report says as many as 950,000 lives are at stake.

It warns that Sh15 billion ($172 million) is urgently needed to save lives both within and outside Somalia. The call came a week after both the Kenya Defence forces and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops asked relief agencies to send aid to areas recently wrested from Al Shabaab by KDF and TFG soldiers.

Somalia's Islamist Al Shabaab rebels with links to Al Qaeda ordered 16 international aid agencies shut in areas they control after armed raids on several offices, and warned more would follow if they did not toe the line. "Any organisation found to be supporting or actively engaged in activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic State, or performing duties other than that which it formally proclaims, will be banned immediately without prior warning," the militant group that is fighting TFG troops and Kenya Defence Forces said in a statement.

Al Shabaab claimed the groups were working to "foster secularism, immorality and the degrading values of democracy in an Islamic country."

Witnesses and aid workers reported that Al Shabaab gunmen stormed offices of several aid agencies in apparent coordinated raids.

"Three vehicles with gunmen surrounded the offices, including the office of Unicef," said Adulahi Idle, a resident in the city of Baidoa. "I saw many militiamen go inside the places and force the people there to leave and the men took control."

It accused the agencies of "lacking complete political detachment and neutrality... intensifying the instability and insecurity gripping the nation as a whole."

A regional security source said the raids in south and central Somalia were well planned and coordinated, with gunmen seizing computers, telephones and other equipment from aid workers. No arrests were reported. "It was a surprise, but something that was clearly planned," said an aid agency official working in Somalia.

Other aid agencies affected include the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Concern, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and the Italian Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI).

Al Shabaab also shut down the Swedish African Welfare Alliance (Sawa), the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ), Action Contre la Faim (ACF), Solidarity and Saacid.

The extremist Shabaab imposes draconian rules on humanitarian workers and has blocked international staff working for aid agencies in its areas, but has allowed limited operations by Somali nationals.

The UN refugee agency report released on Monday says Kenya is bearing the brunt of hosting refugees fleeing Somalia, which has witnessed civil war among clans for at least two decades.

Urgent need

"Due to the high number of refugees fleeing the war torn country to seek asylum in Kenya, high security risks have arisen with aid workers being kidnapped and attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants," says the report. The Government in Nairobi has been forced to mobilise nearly 100 additional police officers deployed in the refugee camps over the past month to strengthen security.

Al Shabaab militants have increased their cross border incursions recently, abducting relief workers and foreign doctors in camps around the Dadaab refugee complex.

The UNHCR says it is now providing police officers with additional vehicles, shelter and telecommunications equipment to deal with threat.

An estimated 3.7 million Somalis are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Increasingly, Somalis are leaving their homes and walking thousands of kilometres in search of food, most of them ending up in IDP settlements within Somalia and refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, in extremely malnourished conditions.

Bad weather and disease have plagued relief efforts, making more people vulnerable and children malnourished as they are cut-off from essential food and medical supplies.

"Heavy rains complicate the situation of thousands of displaced Somalis in East and the Horn of Africa," says the newly published UNHCR report.

In August, 30,376 refugees crossed into Kenya but the numbers began slowing down when KDF's "Operation Linda Nchi" was launched to guard the porous shared border, with a paltry 918 people registering as refugees in Dadaab.

There are currently 950,000 registered Somali refugees in neighbouring countries, with Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti hosting more than 90 per cent of them.

"This year alone, some 289,000 Somalis have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, mostly in Kenya and Ethiopia. Within Somalia, nearly 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in south-central areas," says the UNHCR Somalia report.

Outbreak of diseases

The UN Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit has lifted its "famine" designation for three Somali regions —Bakool, Bay and Lower Shabelle — downgrading them to "emergency" phase. The improvement follows a break in the region's deadly drought and progress in the UN's ability to deliver food to the country's poorest people.

The improved situation in famine data is, however, described as 'precarious.' Premature withdrawal of food and other aid could result in a relapse in the health of the affected population.

In recent months, the UN has increased assistance to over 2.4 million people. While access to food has increased, mortality remains high because of the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and measles.

The ongoing conflict continues to restrict humanitarian access in general and hamper delivery of life-saving assistance.

Refugees Daily
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution