UNHCR warns governments against forced returns to Somalia
GENEVA, May 21 (UNHCR) - Amid a fast deteriorating situation in Somalia, UNHCR on Friday issued an urgent appeal to governments everywhere not to forcibly return people to that country.
Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, said inconsistencies in the way that countries are dealing with people fleeing Somalia were allowing returns to happen and putting lives at risk.
"Today, we are appealing to all states to uphold their international obligations with regard to non-refoulement," she said. "In recent months there have been incidents of returns . . . These have included a further reported deportation, of over 100 Somalis from Saudi Arabia to Mogadishu in mid May."
UNHCR has issued repeated warnings about the situation in Somalia over recent months, and on May 11 issued guidelines aimed at strengthening international protection for people from the Horn of Africa country. Among the recommendations in these guidelines is for countries facing large numbers of arrivals to grant protection to people from southern and central Somalia on a group basis, and to extend complementary forms of international protection where refugee status is not granted.
Fleming reiterated UNHCR's concerns and said "a consistent international approach was needed to ensure that the international protection needs of refugees from Somalia are met."
The situation in Somalia has been worsening for some time, with food aid having been suspended in January by the World Food Programme and fighting being reported almost daily in the capital, Mogadishu.
By UNHCR's estimate some 1.4 million people are displaced internally and more than 570,000 are refugees in neighbouring and other countries. People being returned risk being sent into a war zone and can therefore be in considerable danger.
The principle of no forced return, or non-refoulement, is a central element of international refugee law. UNHCR believes no refugee or asylum-seeker in any country should ever be refouled.