UN agency sounds alarm on deteriorating treatment of uprooted Somalis

23 July 2010In the wake of recent terrorist attacks by a Somali rebel group in Uganda, the United Nations refugee agency today expressed its alarm over xenophobic incidents, round-ups and deportations of displaced Somalis both within and outside their country’s borders. “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,” said Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).The agency said that it is receiving frequent reports of verbal and physical harassment, arrests, arbitrary detention, extortion and push-backs of Somali refugees.“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,” Ms. Fleming noted.In several countries, displaced Somalis have been approaching UNHCR offices to request registration or renewal of their refugee identity documents.The agency is particularly concerned over moves by local authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia, where more than 900 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been sent back to conflict-stricken central Somalia earlier this week.In the city of Gaalkacyo, where some of the deportees – mainly Somali men between the ages of 18 and 25 – are being held, UNHCR and its partners have been providing food, water, blankets and medical assistance.“We are calling on the Puntland authorities to halt these push-backs,” Ms. Fleming stated. “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.”The agency, she said, recognizes the legitimate security concerns of governments, supporting security screening and registration to provide enhanced protection to refugees. “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.”UNHCR is also supporting the initiatives of Somali refugee communities who are clearly distancing themselves from violence, encouraging open dialogue about perceptions.Earlier this month, twin bombings claimed more than 70 lives and wounding hundreds more in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, as they were watching the final match of the soccer World Cup.Al-Shabaab, an Islamist groups, has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attacks.UNHCR said that conditions in Somalia are dire, with reports of 18,000 being uprooted, 112 killed and some 250 wounded in the last three weeks alone.More than 1.4 million people are internally displaced in the Horn of Africa country, while 600,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring countries. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Somali is the third largest refugee-producing country in the world, the agency said.As a result of the large numbers of IDPs, health services are overburdened and unable to effectively cope with the rising number of trauma cases, especially in the capital, Mogadishu, said Paul Garwood of the World Health Organization (WHO) today.Two Mogadishu hospitals reported more than 1,600 casualties, one quarter of which were children under the age of five, and 48 registered deaths, between late March and early July.Mr. Garwood also noted that as the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen throughout Somalia, there has been a rise in the numbers of malaria cases, acute respiratory infections, cholera and acute watery diarrhoea.For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that aid distribution has been suspended in southern Somalia, affecting 1 million people, but is still delivering supplies in other parts of the country for 2 million others. read more