Poor weather, conflict exacerbate dire situation for Somali civilians

News Stories, 11 November 2011

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
A displaced Somali woman with two children after fleeing their home in southern Somalia.

NAIROBI, Kenya, November 11 (UNHCR) Continuing conflict and bad weather in Somalia are further aggravating the dire humanitarian situation in Somalia. UNHCR staff in the south-western border town of Dobley say fewer refugees are crossing into Kenya. Rains which have made roads impassable and fear of being caught up in conflict are being cited as the main reasons.

In Dobley itself, which is just 18 kilometres from the border, people are continuing to arrive. They say they fled rumored impending military clashes in the area, and threats of forced return by the Al Shabaab militia to their places of origin.

Last weekend, six trucks containing almost 180 displaced people from Afgooye district arrived in Dobley after travelling for 27 days on flooded roads. They said that they had been instructed by Al Shabaab to return to their farms but opted instead to travel to Dobley in search of humanitarian help.

In Mogadishu, UNHCR, in conjunction with partner agencies, is finalizing an assessment of the internally displaced population in the Somali capital. The assessment mapped the location of settlements for internally displaced people (IDP) and obtained basic demographic and household size data.

GPS coordinates of all settlements in 14 of Mogadishu's 16 districts were recorded (two were not accessible for security reasons) and a survey of 7,000 households was undertaken.

The preliminary results reveal that there are almost 300 IDP settlements of varying sizes, with GPS sweeps of two districts yet to be completed. The cumulative Mogadishu IDP population figure will be presented to Transitional Federal Government officials in Mogadishu next week before being shared with the humanitarian community.

Meanwhile, a UNHCR-supported report launched yesterday in Nairobi looks into civilian harm caused by the military conflict in Somalia and the means by which it can be addressed. It focuses on assistance for civilians harmed in warfare. There is currently no international legal obligation for parties to conflict to make amends to civilians adversely affected by military operations.

Among the recommendations in the report "Civilian Harm in Somalia: Creating an Appropriate Response" is the establishment of a mechanism to track, analyze, investigate and respond to all incidents of civilian harm. The report also calls for all parties to the conflict in Somalia to immediately cease attacks targeting civilians and humanitarian agencies.

UNHCR stresses the moral imperative of compensating civilians for losses of property, limb or life due to military activities. It also calls upon donors to provide the necessary financial support to fund implementation of the recommendations in the report, so that an effective policy on making amends can be established by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

The report was compiled by the non-governmental organization CIVIC from more than 100 interviews with Somali civilians, humanitarian agencies, the UN and international donors and African Union Mission in Somalia personnel between February and July in Mogadishu, the Dadaab refugee complex, and among the Somali diaspora.

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Tens of thousands of Somalis are fleeing conflict and drought into Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

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Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

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During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

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This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

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