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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the International Conference on Somalia, Geneva, 12 October 1992

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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the International Conference on Somalia, Geneva, 12 October 1992

12 October 1992

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we gather here today to address the plight of the Somali people, it is a sobering fact that about one million Somalis - almost 20% of the total Somali population - have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries in search of safety. UNHCR now assists close to 700,000 of the 1,000,000 Somalis in exile, mainly in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Yemen.

While UNHCR's involvement with Somalis goes back to the first wave of refugees who fled into Ethiopia a decade ago, our assistance programmes were dramatically expanded in 1991 with the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Somalis. In Kenya, there were 80,000 Somali refugees at the end of 1991; today there are 300,000. Every day between 700 to 1000 persons are streaming across the border in very poor physical condition. This year we are spending US$ 30 million to provide multi-sectoral assistance to Somalis in 11 sites which have been established along the border and coastal regions of Kenya. More suitable sites are being sought to accommodate the constantly increasing influx into areas devoid of minimum infrastructure. Drought as well as insecurity and logistic difficulties in northeastern Kenya are major impediments to the efficient rendering of assistance to these new arrivals.

In addition to reinforcing our assistance programmes to refugees in asylum countries, we are pursuing two approaches inside Somalia. One is directed toward returnees and potential repatriants from Ethiopia in the northwest. The other is aimed at improving conditions in the border regions with Kenya so as to reduce further outflows of refugees and eventually to allow people to return to their home villages. We regard such assistance from across the border to population in need as an important of our "preventive" strategy. In August this year, the Secretary-General called upon UNHCR to act as the lead agency for cross border operations into Somalia. We are now taking the initial, tentative steps to carry out this task, relying on information and protection provided by local authorities to determine needs and to ensure that resources reach those who are suffering most. Both in the northwest and at the border, sister U.N. agencies and NGOs are implementing the sectors which match their expertise and mandates.

Our endeavours, however, can succeed only if country-wide and regional strategies are simultaneously undertaken to end the conflict and insecurity. In northeastern Kenya, hardly a day passes without an attack on refugees or relief workers leading to the loss of lives and property. Let me recount an immediate example of how conflict affects our operations. On 8 October, just after our first cross border flight from Kenya had landed in Bardera, carrying medicines, shelter materials and tools for use among the nomads in the area, one of the Somali factions attacked the town. The second flight scheduled for that same day had to be cancelled. WFP flew in to evacuate staff and materials, diverting the first consignment of cross border supplies to Baidoa. Unless we are assured that our relief goods will reach the people for whom they are meant, it is not merely futile but even counterproductive to put our staff and partners at risk only to enrich warlords or bandits.

The natural disaster of drought may be unavoidable; the man made disaster of war, chaos and anarchy is not. The widespread presence of weapons in the hands of Somalis of all ages portends ill for the immediate future not only in Somalia, but also in neighbouring countries where until now asylum has been generously extended. The danger of conflict spilling over from one country to another is great and already demonstrated by events taking place in north-eastern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. The risks of creating revolving refugee or internally displaced populations are even greater.

If we are to avoid that catastrophe, action must be reinforced both at the political and the humanitarian levels. The international community and the political leaders in the region must reaffirm their commitment to pursue the principles of the Final Declaration of the Addis Ababa Humanitarian Summit of last April which called for intra-regional and international cooperation to avert disaster in the Horn. Referring to the generosity of the countries of the Horn in receiving and assisting refugees, the Declaration emphasised the need to improve political stability and economic conditions in the Horn of Africa in order to promote the "ideal" solution to refugee problems, that of voluntary repatriation. This objective cannot be achieved unless the violence in Somalia is curbed, and beyond that, measures are taken in collaboration with the authorities in the Horn, to prevent a repetition of the Somalia experience elsewhere in that part of the world and to begin a process of reconciliation and rehabilitation.

The 100-Day Accelerated Action Programme should be seen as an important milestone in the march toward reconstruction. I hope it will receive the support it deserves as part of the attempt to stabilize Somalia. If it succeeds, it could become a model of U.N./NGO/Donor coordination. If we and our NGO and U.N. partners can contribute to creating an environment which is materially and politically secure and which allows people to remain at home rather than be forced to flee as refugees, we shall have set an example for other interventions in the Horn and elsewhere in Africa.

Let me close by reiterating two points: firstly, that we should remember that the 100 Day Programme is only a part of a longer term plan to meet the needs of Somalia and to recreate a functioning civil society there; and secondly, that its success is dependent on renewed political commitment to the Addis Declaration for international cooperation to build political and economic stability. The need to continue negotiations to resolve the conflicts in Somalia and promote solutions to the problems of refugees throughout the Horn cannot be emphasized enough. The peoples of that region must be given the means to live in peace, free from hunger, thirst and disease. I hope this Conference will help to strengthen our resolve to work together - governments, international and non-governmental organisations and responsible Somalis themselves - to ensure that the basic means of survival are assured and stability guaranteed so that the deaths can stop, those who have left can return home and others can resume their lives in safety and dignity.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.