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World Refugee Day: Guterres highlights plight of Somali refugees in World Refugee Day mission


World Refugee Day: Guterres highlights plight of Somali refugees in World Refugee Day mission

UNHCR chief António Guterres urges the international community to make peace in Somalia a priority and notes that UNHCR has to do more to help the uprooted.
18 June 2008
High Commissioner António Guterres talks with Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya.

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya, June 18 (UNHCR) - Describing it as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, UN refugee agency chief António Guterres on Wednesday urged the international community to make peace in Somalia a priority and acknowledged that UNHCR had to do more to help those uprooted by the 17-year conflict.

In a visit to the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp on the Kenya-Somalia border in advance of World Refugee Day on Friday, Guterres also praised the Kenyan people and government for their long record of generosity to those displaced by conflict in the region.

"We came to Dadaab for World Refugee Day because it represents a desperate call for peace in Somalia," said Guterres, who was spending the night at the remote camp complex. "There is no solution to the plight of refugees without a political solution. Only peace can solve the problems of the 200,000 people living in Dadaab in such dramatic circumstances."

The Dadaab camp complex is one of the world's biggest, oldest and most congested refugee sites. After 16 years, it has grown to more than double its planned capacity and refugees continue to arrive from Somalia - 20,000 since the beginning of the year.

"Children have been born here in this camp. They are now in secondary school and still there is no peace in Somalia," a female refugee leader told Guterres. "We need peace in our country. Do not tire in searching for peace. The international community should not get tired of supporting us."

Many of the refugees, however, say they have lost hope of ever returning to their homeland. Guterres said that while he could understand such sentiments, he believed that with international support and a willingness among Somalis to work together to restore peace, they could go home again.

"I believe it's a responsibility of the international community to be much more engaged in Somalia and to be much more supportive of efforts to bring peace," he told journalists at the camp. "I do not accept the idea that a country like that cannot organize itself and become a country at peace and be able to create the necessary conditions.

"My appeal to the international community is to put Somalia at the centre of the priorities and act to help bring Somalis together," he added. "Only the Somalis together can find a solution."

In a community gathering of about 2,000 refugees on the grounds of a new camp school, Guterres said it was abundantly clear that the victims of the conflict in Somalia were unanimous in their desire for peace.

"I came here to listen," he told the crowd. "I have learned that the Somali refugee community is saying in one voice: Stop the war in Somalia."

UNHCR's latest annual statistics for 2007 show there are some 457,000 Somali refugees worldwide. In addition to those who have fled to Kenya, tens of thousands of Somalis have risked their lives to reach Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen and beyond.

In the last three months alone inside Somalia, violence in Mogadishu has forced 50,000 more people to flee, bringing the total who have fled the devastated capital to more than 850,000 since February 2007. More than 1 million Somalis remain displaced within the country.

Guterres pledged to develop a comprehensive plan in 2009 to address the twin problems of congestion in Dadaab camp and the socio-economic concerns of the local community.

The High Commissioner said that while additional donor support will be required to rectify the problems at Dadaab, UNHCR would in the meantime do more itself to begin implementing changes.

He noted that structural reforms now under way in the agency had reduced staffing levels in its Geneva headquarters by more than 20 percent, "exactly so that we can make internal funds available to address situations that are desperate and in which there is not money available immediately from the international community."

By Millicent Mutuli and Ron Redmond in Dadaab, Kenya