Number of Somali refugees in Horn of Africa passes 1 million mark

News Stories, 17 July 2012

© UNHCR/J.Ose
Newly arrived refugees wait to be registered at the transit centre in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia last month.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 17 (UNHCR) UNHCR announced on Tuesday that Somalia's population exodus has crossed a new threshold more than 1 million people have now fled the country for the surrounding region. The most recent arrivals continue to cite insecurity and dwindling food resources as the main reasons for their flight.

Despite last week passing the 1 million mark for the first time since Somalia descended into violence in 1991, data compiled by UNHCR for the main arrival countries of Kenya and Ethiopia also shows lower but steady numbers of people leaving Somalia. In the first six months of this year some 30,000 refugee arrivals were registered in the region. The conflict and the worst drought in decades forced more than 137,000 Somalis to leave their homes during the first half of last year. For the year as a whole, some 294,000 refugees registered in camps in the surrounding region.

"The situation in most of the southern and central part of Somalia remains fluid and unstable, though there appears to be relative calm in some areas. The drought has been less severe this year, yet the prospects for the harvest next month are poor. Many people struggle to cope, as livelihoods remain extremely fragile," a UNHCR spokesman said.

As part of the overall humanitarian effort, UNHCR alone has distributed aid to some 177,000 displaced people inside Somalia since January. "Together with our partners we reached more than 526,000 displaced Somalis in need of assistance. Priority has been given to the border areas and [the capital] Mogadishu as these areas receive newly displaced people who have travelled significant distances," the spokesman said.

Somalia is also going through a complex if tentative period of transition. In less than six weeks the difficult and slow political transition is scheduled to move into a new and yet more critical stage. Before the end of August, the country is expected to have a new constitution, a new parliament and a new president and government.

UNHCR believes that humanitarian crises must ultimately be solved through political means. The next few months are an important stage in the search for solutions to the suffering that has afflicted Somalia for two decades.

"Somali people carry the primary responsibility for bringing peace and stability to their own country. We do note, however, that the international community has a significant responsibility to support Somalis in bringing about a positive outcome," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva.

Somalia is one of the world's longest and worst refugee crises. In the past decade only two other conflicts, the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, have forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.

The pressure on communities hosting Somali refugees is massive as the Somali crisis continues to affect the entire Horn of Africa region and beyond. Neighbouring countries also need continued international support. In addition to the million refugees in surrounding countries, more than 1.3 million Somalis are internally displaced. This means that a third of Somalia's estimated 7.5 million population lives in forced displacement.