Statement to the Special Summit of IGAD Heads of State and Government on Protection and Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees in Nairobi

Delivered on his behalf by George Okoth-Obbo Assistant High Commissioner (Operations)


Distinguished Delegates,

Over the last quarter of a century, millions of Somalis have been uprooted from their homes; their lives blighted by conflict, violence, and other forces beyond their control. The duration and the intensity of their suffering are beyond contemplation.

This Summit, and the Declaration that you will shortly adopt, are powerful and clear. They reaffirm your long-standing commitment to providing protection and support to Somali refugees and internally displaced people, and mark a new energy and determination to help them rebuild their lives, and restore a vision of a future. I am grateful to IGAD for organising this important event, to Kenya for hosting it, and to all of you for your active engagement.

IGAD Member States, together with Yemen, have a strong tradition of receiving and hosting refugees, despite complex implications for their societies and economies, while striving to manage the other damaging consequences of a long-standing conflict in the region. It is essential that this compassion and solidarity, so consistently demonstrated at national and community level, are now reinforced through additional, tangible international support, in the spirit of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted at the General Assembly last September.

This is as critical now as ever, at a moment in which a deadly combination of drought and conflict are compelling more people to flee within and from Somalia, and at the same time, food insecurity is threatening the lives of people across the sub-region. Conflict is not the cause of drought – but it leaves people pitilessly exposed to its consequences, their ability to cope already eroded by the exactions and distortions of a war economy, and livelihoods and markets already disrupted.

There is no time to lose. The response to drought must be immediately scaled up, to avert famine and reduce its adverse consequences. Resolute action is needed to save lives and rebuild livelihoods. This means early and large-scale international support to alleviate the pressure on communities receiving people forced to flee, and to underpin the longstanding tradition of asylum throughout the sub-region, in the face of this new and deadly challenge.


There is ample evidence – much of it generated within this sub-region - that given the opportunity – through access to markets, freedom of movement and the removal of other barriers - refugees have the potential to make significant contributions to the societies and economies of the communities hosting them.

For this to happen, refugees must have the possibility to become productive members of their new communities – empowered to contribute to their wellbeing and development, until such time as solutions are achieved.  And in turn, targeted development support can help refugee-hosting communities to flourish. 

Achieving this means building connections between refugees and the communities in which they live, and connecting both to social, economic and educational opportunities. It means including refugees and host communities in national systems and services, including health and education, civil registration and justice – and in national development planning.

I very much commend the groundbreaking models now being applied in a number of IGAD Member States, aimed at increasing self-reliance, inclusion and social cohesion, and ensuring meaningful access to rights and livelihood opportunities. These not only enhance dignity, but importantly, avoid a hopeless and debilitating dependency on humanitarian assistance. They also lay the ground for solutions, by equipping refugees with the capacities and skills that will eventually help them to help rebuild their country.

Solutions for refugees and the internally displaced are, however, fundamentally linked to resolving conflict and building stability inside Somalia. But these should not be pursued as sequential steps – rather, we need to engage a range of tools and actors to help build the conditions that will allow those refugees who are ready to return home to do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity, and with a real prospect of rebuilding their lives; and at the same time, progressively help to build stability and create the basis for peace.

We need more action to protect and pursue solutions for the internally displaced, and to address state fragility - a compelling humanitarian imperative, but requiring targeted development support - an important element in stabilising population movements and also paving the way for an eventual resolution of refugee crises. Together with the rest of the UN family, we are UNHCR is fully committed to pursuing durable solutions for both refugees and internally displaced people inside Somalia.  

These approaches – inclusion in host communities and societies, and building conditions conducive to voluntary return in Somalia - call for a multifaceted approach, engaging a much broader range of actors than in the past. The pillars of this effort will remain the governments in the sub-region, but these efforts must be underpinned by the support of many others - humanitarian and development actors, the private sector, and donors. I am particularly encouraged by the strong engagement and the new approaches being spearheaded by the World Bank and increasingly, regional financial institutions.

Third country solutions also remain important, as a very practical expression of international solidarity and responsibility sharing. To this end, the resettlement of Somali refugees must continue. We in UNHCR are working hard with government and NGO partners to expand the number of countries offering resettlement places, and to increase the number of opportunities available through complementary pathways such as humanitarian admission programmes, family reunification and opportunities for labour mobility and education.

I also encourage asylum countries hosting Somali refugees to provide alternative arrangements locally where appropriate, especially for refugees who have effectively integrated, for example, through marriage to nationals.


The New York Declaration marked a fundamental reaffirmation of the principles of international protection and solidarity that have shaped the response of this sub-region to the Somali refugee crisis over the last two decades.

UNHCR stands with you to mobilise support for these efforts, in close collaboration with IGAD Member States and Yemen, and in partnership with the IGAD Secretariat – including through the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, adopted as part of the New York Declaration.

The Declaration you will adopt today now takes those commitments a step further – applying them through the prism of a regional approach to the situation of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in protracted displacement. I commend the resolve and determination of IGAD Member States not to abandon them to their plight, but to redouble your commitment to international protection, and the pursuit of solutions. It is now critical that the international community mobilises in support of these efforts, in line with the commitments of last September.

Thank you.