UNHCR: World must not lose focus on Somalia

April 6, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya Apr 6 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is urging the international community not to lose focus in the Somalia crisis.

UNHCR chief António Guterres said the catastrophe in Somalia would escalate further and become unmanageable unless the international community doubles its efforts in solving it.

“There is a lot of attention about what is happening in Japan, Cote d\’Ivoire, Libya and other countries… we should not afford to forget Somalia, the war that started 20 years ago is still going on, we must have attention focussed there,” Gutteres told reporters during a fact-finding mission at the Dadaab refugee camp on Sunday.

“International solidarity is very important in continuing to solve the crisis that is facing Somalia and the Somali people,” he said of the 1.5 million people displaced by the two decade war.

Of these, some 700,000 are living in various camps in several countries worldwide, while Kenya alone houses 330,000 of them.

“It is a crisis that needs concerted efforts to solve. We must help the displaced people and ensure they live in a dignified manner but we are facing serious challenges by the day.  We are having 10,000 refugees crossing the border to Kenya every month lately and this is a serious problem,” he said.

Mr Gutteres said his organization was finalizing talks with the Kenyan government to expand Dadaab refugee camp to be able to accommodate more refugees due to the latest influx after fresh fighting at the Kenya-Somalia border.

“There is the challenge of security for the refugees here at the camp, we are also in talks with the government on this aspect.  We are requesting for a security package from the government and all these talks are going on.”

“We are in dialogue with the government to improve security at the camp.  We are engaging the government on this, and above all we are engaging the international community and donors to be able to get resources to handle the crisis,” he added.

The UNHCR chief was accompanied by WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran and Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director for UN Women.

The heads of three United Nations agencies expressed deep concern about the living conditions of more than 330,000 Somali refugees during the visit to three camps in Dadaab in northeastern Kenya where more refugees have been arriving daily, crowding more people into one of the largest refugee concentration camp in the world.

Drought and two decades of violence have forced Somalis to flee their country and take refuge at the three Dadaab camps, which were originally designed to accommodate a total of 90,000 people.

“After more than 20 years of war, Somali refugees have become a true global population. The majority are here in Kenya and in Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia but Somalis have sought refuge in countries on all five continents. As the war continues unabated, I appeal to all countries in the world to keep their borders open and to allow them to live in dignity,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

He appealed to the government to allow the completion of an additional refugee residential area in Dadaab known as “Ifo II.”

At the end of the Sunday visit, the WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said she particularly wanted to ensure all the refugees get adequate food rations despite the increased numbers at the camps.

 “Today I met Somali women and children who have fled conflict and arrived traumatised and suffering from malnutrition,” she said and added that “It is vital that we as United Nations agencies are here to protect them and provide the food and shelter they need as refugees in Dadaab.”

Sheeran said the increased number of refugees called for more action from donor agencies to ensure refugees get enough food rations.

The high concentration of refugees in an already harsh environment has had a negative impact on the camp’s surroundings.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable even when they reach the Dadaab camps.

“In addition to having to flee from their homes, women are exposed to sexual violence.  We must continue to do our utmost to protect girls and women, while also supporting their contribution as productive community members,” said Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director for UN Women.

On top of rising tension in the camps because of overcrowding, UN agencies are alert to the possibility of an influx of more refugees from neighbouring countries and the potential impact this has on regional security.

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