Statement by Ambassador Mohamed Abdi Affey at the special session of IGAD Ministerial Committee on Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees
UNHCR Special Envoy appeals for urgent action to stabilize Somalia, and create conditions that are conducive to safe and sustainable voluntary return
NAIROBI – It is a great honour to be part of this Special Session of the IGAD Ministerial Committee on Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees.
I shall start by thanking the Government of Kenya for hosting this Summit under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to discuss the future of Somalia, with a specific focus on refugees.
It is unprecedented for Somalia’s neighbours to galvanize concerted action to formulate lasting solutions for a nation that has endured extreme distress for almost three decades, which resulted in the forced displacement of two million people.
This Summit is timely, taking place at a time when Somalia is at a historic crossroads – a point at which crucial decisions must be made that will have far-reaching consequences for the country’s stabilization in the long-term.
In recent years we have witnessed a crisis in refugee protection emerge in some parts of the world.
I would like to salute the IGAD member states, and the Republic of Yemen, for the exceptional generosity they have extended to Somali refugees in their greatest time of need. Without exception, your governments and people have shown exemplary compassion, allowing women, men and children who had nowhere else to go, to seek refuge on your territories.
In recent years – as global forced displacement figures have attained unprecedented levels – we have witnessed a crisis in refugee protection emerge in some parts of the world, with troubling reactions that range from brazen indifference to outright rejection of refugees, expressed in exclusionary policies and public attitudes.
Without the compassion and generosity of the Governments and people of Somalia's neighbours, it would not be possible to protect the refugees.
The numbers of refugees involved in those situations are nowhere near the colossal numbers that African nations are hosting. The countries turning the refugees away are far wealthier than those that have hosted 900,000 Somali refugees for nearly three decades.
Somalia’s neighbors have generously kept their borders open, and provided refugees the security and protection that they could no longer enjoy in their home country. Notwithstanding their own needs, local communities – always on the frontline of refugee response – have unfailingly shared meager resources like land, water and firewood.
Without the compassion and generosity of the Governments and people of those states, it would not be possible to protect the refugees.
Over the years, the impact of war, terrorism and famine in Somalia has been devastating.
We must not forget that in Somalia the human impact of war, terrorism and sometimes famine has been devastating. Many lives were lost that will never be accounted for. Entire communities and communal infrastructure were destroyed, and Somalia came to be associated with the characteristics of a failed state.
Today there are positive signs of the progress that has been achieved towards improving the situation in Somalia. On the political front, there is new hope following the recent elections which marked a milestone in the country’s post-conflict transformation. The new president enjoys massive support and greater legitimacy than any other president in the past 25 years.
As Somalia moves into a new phase, other stabilization achievements are discernible. Security is a case in point. Several IGAD member states – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – have joined others in contributing troops that are working with the Somali national security forces to increase security throughout the country.
The majority of Somali refugees continue to require the protection of the countries that are hosting them.
It is important, also, to acknowledge the ongoing voluntary repatriation movements, albeit on a very small scale from mostly Djibouti, Kenya and Yemen. I must emphasize that refugees who choose to return to Somalia are provided with detailed information about the places they are returning to, and that they do so voluntarily.
It is equally important to recognize that the majority of Somali refugees in this region continue to require the protection of the countries that are hosting them. Conditions in many parts of Somalia are still not conducive for safe or sustainable return, and no one knows this better than the refugees themselves.
Upon taking up office as the UNHCR Special Envoy on the Somalia Refugee situation last September, I embarked on a tour of the region. I was extremely honored by the warm welcome I received from your governments, and the assurances of support for my role as Special Envoy.
The people I met are tired of being refugees, and frustrated that conditions in Somalia do not yet permit them to make that important decision to return home.
During that tour I had the opportunity to meet and talk to refugees in camps and urban settings. In Djibouti, I visited Ali Addeh, the country’s biggest camp, with over 14,000 refugees. In Kenya, I visited Dadaab camp, with more than a quarter of a million refugees. In Ethiopia I visited the Dollo Ado camps, sheltering 217,000 Somali refugees. In Uganda, I met with urban refugees in Kampala, while in Yemen, I heard from Somali refugee representatives in Aden and Sana’a.
I would like to emphasize that the people I met are tired of being refugees, and frustrated that conditions in Somalia do not yet permit them to make that important decision to return home. The refugees I met follow developments in Somalia closely, in the hopes that sooner rather than later they, too, will be able to enjoy rights and freedoms in their home country. Behind the statistics are women, men and children with dreams and aspirations, and a deep longing for home. The troubling phenomenon of refugees resorting to hazardous travel with the aid of traffickers or smugglers with the expectation of making a better life abroad is a harsh manifestation of the despair that they feel as exiles.
The stabilization of Somalia is already on course; the journey ahead is fraught with monumental challenges.
Although the stabilization of Somalia is already on course, the journey ahead is fraught with monumental challenges. Surmounting those challenges will be critical for delivering socio-economic and peace dividends – vital building blocks for the restoration of a viable state, and indeed for the realization of durable solutions both for the 1.1 million citizens who are displaced internally and for returning refugees.
Those building blocks include addressing the continuing threat of terrorism and the complexity of security sector reform. Somalia needs support to build functioning state institutions, democratic governance, and rule of law. Somalia needs support to meet the needs of its citizens and re-establish social cohesion. Somalia needs support to stimulate employment opportunities, restore vital public services and rehabilitate social infrastructure.
We must avoid the possibility of famine-related deaths inside Somalia and mass displacement into neighboring countries as happened eleven years ago.
Drought conditions prevailing in the sub-region and the threat of famine are further complicating the situation in Somalia. It is expected to worsen in 2017, with large populations likely to experience famine if the spring rains fail and a major response is not scaled up immediately. Effective responses are required to prevent a humanitarian crisis. We must avoid the possibility of deaths inside Somalia and mass displacement into neighboring countries as happened eleven years ago.
We must also pay attention to the food situation inside refugee camps. The World Food Programme has been forced by lack of funds to impose ration cuts affecting many refugee populations. Urgent action is needed to address the resulting silent nutritional crisis.
Durable solutions for displaced citizens of Somalia cannot be realized overnight.
I would like to caution that durable solutions for displaced citizens of Somalia cannot be realized overnight.
I am therefore appealing, in the spirit of the New York Declaration, for countries of asylum to continue showing solidarity and extending their generosity towards refugees, while keeping their borders open to those in need of international protection.
It is also necessary to counter negative perceptions of Somali refugees, and rather support them to become self-reliant agents of positive transformation. The majority of Somali refugees are currently living in camps, where access to education and meaningful employment is severely limited. I am appealing to Somalia’s neighbors to support refugees to acquire useful skills and utilize those skills productively so that when the time comes to return home, they too may contribute to nation-building. I am appealing for bolder policies that allow refugees to seek employment, do business and enjoy freedom of movement.
In a region where countries are grappling with multiple refugee situations funding levels for humanitarian responses are grossly inadequate.
It goes without saying that refugee hosting countries cannot achieve such goals on their own. It is troubling that in a region where countries are grappling with multiple refugee situations funding levels for humanitarian responses are grossly inadequate.
It is important to acknowledge and to be appreciative of the contributions that various countries, corporations, foundations and other actors have made over the years towards providing protection and basic assistance to refugees. Without that support, we would be telling a different story, and many more lives would have been lost.
However, much more needs to be done. In the spirit of the New York Declaration, we are calling on donors to dig deeper into their pockets with a view to matching the generosity of African countries, and enhancing their capacities to absorb large numbers of refugees.
Development actors, international financial institutions and investors, must engage in concerted efforts to promote the social and economic empowerment of refugees and the communities that host them.
Other partners, notably development actors, international financial institutions and investors, must also participate in concerted efforts to promote the social and economic empowerment of refugees and the communities that host them. Such cooperation will strengthen the will of host countries to continue to uphold their responsibilities towards refugees.
From a durable solutions perspective, I would like to make a special appeal to refugee-hosting countries to consider liberalizing legal pathways to facilitate the local integrating refugees, particularly those who have been in extended exile, and may not wish to return to Somalia.
By the same token, I would like to appeal to resettlement countries to increase their quotas, and to countries that have decided to shrink resettlement to reconsider their positions. Resettlement benefits only a very small percentage of refugees. Still, the dividends in terms of providing opportunities to citizens who will one day contribute to building the nation, cannot be overstated.
This Summit sends a strong positive signal that Somalia is not forgotten.
This historic IGAD Summit has refocused world attention on the need for durable solutions for Somalia. With international community preoccupied with violent crises that are generating mass displacement in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and elsewhere, Somalia’s plight appeared to have been forgotten, while countries hosting Somali refugees appeared to have been left to shoulder the burden.
This Summit however sends a strong positive signal that Somalia is not forgotten. It is an acknowledgement that a viable state cannot be restored without concerted action by Government of Somalia, IGAD member states and the international community at large. We must all work together to achieve the stabilization of Somalia.
In closing, I would like to commend IGAD for convening this forum for stakeholders to consider their roles in supporting the stabilization and development of Somalia.
I thank you for your kind attention.