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Somali exodus slows in Horn of Africa but grows in Yemen

Somali exodus slows in Horn of Africa but grows in Yemen

The number of people fleeing their homes in Somalia has been falling this month, but a growing number are risking the high seas to reach Yemen.
26 August 2011
Members of an extended family arrive in the Somali town of Galkayo after fleeing their home earlier this year because of drought.

GENEVA, August 26 (UNHCR) - The number of people fleeing their homes in Somalia on a daily basis has been falling this month, but a growing number of Somalis have been risking the high seas to reach Yemen.

In Somalia, figures compiled by a network of UNHCR partners show a significant drop in the number of people arriving in Mogadishu. UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Friday that the influx of internally displaced people into the Somali capital had peaked in July, when nearly 28,000 fled to the city in search of humanitarian help after fleeing famine, drought and conflict in the countryside.

"However, since the beginning of this month, just over 5,000 displacements into the city have been recorded. The average daily arrival rate in the city dropped from more than 1,000 per day last month to an estimated 200 in August," Edwards said.

Due to insecurity, almost no movements or returns were recorded in districts of Mogadishu held by the Al Shabaab militia until earlier this month. Furthermore, there are no livelihood opportunities and most of these areas were destroyed by previous fighting. African Union peacekeepers have also imposed restrictions on civilian movement or return to previously Al Shabaab-controlled areas.

"We are also seeing reports of Al Shabaab continuing to place restrictions on movement in areas under its control, particularly movements of men - most notably in the Lower Shabelle and Bay regions in the wake of the Al Shabaab withdrawal from the capital on August 6. This has prevented large population movements, especially from Lower Shabelle, into Mogadishu," Edwards said.

Meanwhile, donations from the Somali diaspora and mobilization by local and host communities in July and August to assist the affected populations during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan may have enabled people to remain where they were.

"Furthermore, international and local organizations, including UNHCR, have been better placed to deliver aid to famine-affected populations in Bay, Gedo, south Bakool and Hiraan regions, particularly in areas along the Kenya and Ethiopia borders," Edwards said. "This has helped to reduce the pressure on Mogadishu as a destination to seek aid," he added.

UNHCR this week completed the distribution of 3,000 emergency assistance packages for up to 18,000 people in the Hiraan region, which is under Al Shabaab control.

The pace of arrivals of Somali refugees in neighbouring Kenya's Dadaab region has also slowed this month to 1,000-1,200 a day from 1,500 previously. But the overall health state of the latest arrivals, particularly the children, is worse than previously - reflecting the drought and hunger situations inside Somalia. The camps at Dadaab now house almost 500,000 people.

"Bucking the trend of the slowing outflow in the Horn of Africa, Yemen is seeing a sharp rise in the number of Somali refugees arriving on rickety boats across the Gulf of Aden. More than 3,700 Somali refugees have reached Yemen's coast so far in August," said UNHCR's Edwards.

This marks an earlier than normal start to the traditional peak season for smugglers' boats to arrive from Bossaso in northern Somalia, and is the highest monthly arrival rate so far this year. "The new arrivals tell our staff they fled Somalia because of the unstable security situation, severe drought, high food prices and lack of job opportunities," Edwards noted.

It is testament to the refugees' desperation that they have chosen to flee to Yemen, which is itself affected by serious unrest. They cross the Gulf of Aden on what are often unseaworthy and overcrowded boats. Many do not survive the dangerous crossing.

On Monday, two Somalis drowned when their boat capsized. Nonetheless, more Somalis are expected to arrive in Yemen in the coming months. Yemen hosts the second-largest population of Somali refugees in the region, with nearly 192,000. Some 15,000 of them have arrived since January.