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Update on abducted UNHCR staff member in Somalia

Briefing notes

Update on abducted UNHCR staff member in Somalia

24 June 2008 Also available in:

UNHCR continues to press for the immediate and unconditional release of a UNHCR staff member who was abducted over the weekend in Somalia. Hassan Mohamed Ali, also known as Keynaan, was abducted by unknown armed men on Saturday night from his home near Afgooye, some 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu.

Ali Keynaan established telephone contact with a relative on Sunday night and said he was in good condition. But no other information has been received with respect to his abductors, their motives or our colleague's whereabouts.

Ali Keynaan is UNHCR's head of office in Mogadishu. Before his abduction, he was finalising plans for the expected distribution this week of basic aid supplies to some 40,000 displaced people living in scores of makeshift sites along the 30-km stretch of road from Mogadishu to Afgooye.

Demonstrations against Ali Keynaan's abduction are reported to have taken place around Afgooye yesterday. The demonstrators reportedly demanded his immediate and safe release. Nine humanitarian workers are currently being held throughout Somalia.

Ali Keynaan, who is the longest-serving UNHCR staff member in Somalia, is well-known in Mogadishu as a humanitarian and human rights advocate. He and his family were themselves displaced last year by the unrelenting conflict in the city and were living in Ceelasha village, west of Mogadishu on the road to Afgooye.

In all, more than 300,000 internally displaced Somalis are trying to survive along the Afgooye corridor, where Ali Keynaan has been focusing his office's humanitarian work. His abduction will now force delays in the delivery of aid to people who are already desperate, and affect the continuation of humanitarian activities in the Somali capital.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has demanded Ali Keynaan's immediate and unconditional release, noting that he and other Somali staff are crucial in the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of innocent civilian victims of the ongoing conflict in their country.

Following a series of kidnappings and abductions of expatriate aid workers in north-east Somalia, or Puntland, including against two UNHCR staff, and in south-central Somalia, the United Nations in April withdrew international staff and was gradually redeploying to other areas deemed safer.

More than 1 million people are now internally displaced in Somalia. In the last two months alone, violence in the devastated Somali capital has forced nearly 35,000 more Somalis to flee their homes.