Number of Somali refugees in Horn of Africa passes 1 million mark

News Stories, 17 July 2012

© UNHCR/J.Ose
Newly arrived refugees wait to be registered at the transit centre in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia last month.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 17 (UNHCR) UNHCR announced on Tuesday that Somalia's population exodus has crossed a new threshold more than 1 million people have now fled the country for the surrounding region. The most recent arrivals continue to cite insecurity and dwindling food resources as the main reasons for their flight.

Despite last week passing the 1 million mark for the first time since Somalia descended into violence in 1991, data compiled by UNHCR for the main arrival countries of Kenya and Ethiopia also shows lower but steady numbers of people leaving Somalia. In the first six months of this year some 30,000 refugee arrivals were registered in the region. The conflict and the worst drought in decades forced more than 137,000 Somalis to leave their homes during the first half of last year. For the year as a whole, some 294,000 refugees registered in camps in the surrounding region.

"The situation in most of the southern and central part of Somalia remains fluid and unstable, though there appears to be relative calm in some areas. The drought has been less severe this year, yet the prospects for the harvest next month are poor. Many people struggle to cope, as livelihoods remain extremely fragile," a UNHCR spokesman said.

As part of the overall humanitarian effort, UNHCR alone has distributed aid to some 177,000 displaced people inside Somalia since January. "Together with our partners we reached more than 526,000 displaced Somalis in need of assistance. Priority has been given to the border areas and [the capital] Mogadishu as these areas receive newly displaced people who have travelled significant distances," the spokesman said.

Somalia is also going through a complex if tentative period of transition. In less than six weeks the difficult and slow political transition is scheduled to move into a new and yet more critical stage. Before the end of August, the country is expected to have a new constitution, a new parliament and a new president and government.

UNHCR believes that humanitarian crises must ultimately be solved through political means. The next few months are an important stage in the search for solutions to the suffering that has afflicted Somalia for two decades.

"Somali people carry the primary responsibility for bringing peace and stability to their own country. We do note, however, that the international community has a significant responsibility to support Somalis in bringing about a positive outcome," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva.

Somalia is one of the world's longest and worst refugee crises. In the past decade only two other conflicts, the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, have forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.

The pressure on communities hosting Somali refugees is massive as the Somali crisis continues to affect the entire Horn of Africa region and beyond. Neighbouring countries also need continued international support. In addition to the million refugees in surrounding countries, more than 1.3 million Somalis are internally displaced. This means that a third of Somalia's estimated 7.5 million population lives in forced displacement.

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UNHCR country pages

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.

Somalia/Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
Kenya: A Lifetime of WaitingPlay video

Kenya: A Lifetime of Waiting

Sarah was born and raised in Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Now 21, she has become a wife and mother without ever setting foot outside the camp.
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Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.