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Somalia: call for increase in support for UN programmes

Briefing notes

Somalia: call for increase in support for UN programmes

29 January 2004

Citing a window of opportunity, senior UNHCR officials today called for a drastic increase in support for United Nations programmes in Somalia as the country enters what they called a critical transition period. A high-level UNHCR team led by Geneva-based Inspector General Dennis McNamara today concludes a 20-day mission to Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. The mission reviewed UNHCR's operations in Somalia, with particular focus on refugees and returnees. It will make a number of proposals to UNHCR headquarters on the future direction and objectives of this programme and how it can work with other agencies to promote sustainable reintegration of refugees. There remain some 200,000 Somali refugees in the region, including over 130,000 in Kenya and other large groups in Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

While the Somali peace talks continue and the signature of an agreement yesterday in Nairobi signals important political progress, more than half the country has enjoyed relative peace and stability for some years. The UNHCR mission emphasised that there is now a particular window of opportunity to promote the return of up to 30,000 refugees to Somaliland and Puntland, in particular from Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.

Somalia remains one of the world's poorest countries, with nearly half its population living on less than US $1 a day and only 10 percent rural literacy. Less than one-fifth of all children attend primary school and 20 percent of children die before 5 years of age. A quarter of the population has access to clean drinking water and 70 percent of families are estimated to rely on the income of women. In the last recorded UN Human Development Index that included Somalia, it was ranked third poorest out of 174 countries surveyed. Despite this, Somalia has received almost 1 million returning refugees in recent years. The majority have remained home despite the grinding poverty. According to a recent UNHCR survey, over 90 percent of those returning had insufficient income to meet their basic needs, and some two-thirds reportedly survived on one meal a day or less. Somalia also hosts several thousand refugees from neighbouring countries as well as an estimated 350,000 internally displaced people, mainly from the central and southern areas.