In Kenya, UNHCR chief discusses solutions for Somali refugees

Press Releases, 10 July 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres met Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku today to discuss the situation in Somalia and Kenya's interests in seeing Somali refugees here returning home.

"For the first time in over two decades, there is a chance to establish normalcy," Guterres said. "Consolidating peace is very challenging and Somalia is fragile, but the process is moving in the right direction."

While underlining the fragility of the situation in Somalia, the High Commissioner encouraged the countries in the region to work with UNHCR and refugees themselves to find the best solution for every refugee.

Mr. Guterres told Kenyan officials it is time to move from "care and maintenance" of Somali refugees in their country to solutions "where the return of refugees is fully voluntary, and conducted in safety and dignity."

UNHCR will work with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia to establish a tripartite commission on standards and procedures for voluntary repatriation. Mr. Guterres is planning to propose similar commissions for other major Somali refugee hosting countries. He travels on Thursday to Ethiopia for high-level talks.

In his meetings in Mogadishu on Tuesday and Nairobi today, Mr. Guterres proposed a phased approach, starting by assisting refugees who are spontaneously returning to Somalia. The next step would be a pilot project under which UNHCR could help assist groups of refugees return to a number of selected places in Somalia judged to be safe and stable. As conditions inside Somalia become conducive this would be followed by enhanced facilitation and finally the promotion of repatriation.

"If we do these returns properly, they can be a positive factor for development in Somalia," he said. "On the other hand, if huge numbers of refugees go home prematurely, they could contribute to destabilization."

Mr. Guterres noted that the situation in Jubaland, the region where a large majority of refugees in Kenya originate, is tense, and humanitarian actors including UNHCR are unable to access certain areas to deliver aid and monitor the situation. Also, Somalis continue to flee violence, although in smaller numbers than in previous years. "This is a moment of hope for Somalia," Mr. Guterres said, "It all depends on how things evolve."

Mr. Guterres also expressed appreciation for Kenya's generous policy toward refugees and a partnership that for UNHCR represents "one of the most important in the world for refugee protection." There are now over 600,000 registered Somali refugees in Kenya.

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Travelling with High Commissioner Guterres

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UNHCR country pages

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

Return to SomaliaPlay video

Return to Somalia

Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.