UNHCR alarmed at treatment of displaced Somalis in their country and beyond
GALKAYO, Somalia, July 23 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Friday it was alarmed by a deterioration in the treatment of uprooted Somali civilians, both in Somalia and the surrounding region. Current conditions in Somalia are particularly dire. Over the past three weeks alone, some 18,000 people have been displaced, 112 killed and around 250 wounded according to field reports from partners and agencies on the ground.
Against the background of recent terrorist attacks, UNHCR has noted growing numbers of incidents of xenophobia, round-ups and deportations of displaced Somalis. "This increasingly negative perception of uprooted Somalis gives us cause for concern over the wider refugee protection environment in the region and the rest of Africa. We are receiving frequent reports of verbal and physical harassment in communities as well as arrests, arbitrary detention, extortion and even push-backs of Somali refugees," a UNHCR spokesperson said.
This negativity is having a corroding effect on the traditionally positive relations between the host communities and Somali refugees, many of whom have spent decades in exile. In a number of countries, more and more Somali refugees have been approaching UNHCR offices requesting registration or renewal of their refugee identity documents.
Of particular worry is the action by the local authorities of Somalia's Puntland region in pushing back more than 900 internally displaced people (IDPs) to conflict-stricken central Somalia on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
In Galkayo, where some of the deportees, mainly Somali men between the ages of 18 and 25, are being held, UNHCR has been facilitating an inter-agency humanitarian response, providing food, water, medical assistance and blankets.
"We are calling on the Puntland authorities to halt these push-backs," the spokesperson said. "It is UNHCR's view that people fleeing southern and central Somalia are in need of international protection and that involuntary returns to that part of the country place people's lives at risk," he added.
UNHCR recognizes the legitimate security concerns of governments and supports security screening and registration to provide enhanced protection to refugees and better cater to their needs. Only civilians can be refugees and a person who continues to pursue armed action, violence and terror in the country of asylum, cannot be considered a refugee.
The refugee agency is also supporting the initiatives of Somali refugee communities, who are clearly distancing themselves from violence. UNHCR encourages open dialogue about perceptions and responsible reporting on refugee and asylum issues at all times.
Somalis are fleeing years of violence, and are themselves victims of terror and conflict, which has taken thousands of lives and displaced millions. Indiscriminate fighting continues, with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population. With nearly half of the population dependent on aid, Somalia is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
More than 1.4 million people are internally displaced in Somalia and over 600,000 Somalis live as refugees in the neighbouring countries. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia is the third largest refugee-producing country in the world.