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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Crisis in Horn of Africa

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

Somalia Emergency: Urgent Appeal

Widespread malnutrition among Somali refugees requires immediate action.

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Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

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.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

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.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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