United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, George Okoth-Obbo. PHOTO/COURTESY
By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is appealing for support for efforts aimed at bringing greater stability inside Somalia, and to the countries hosting Somali refugees.
Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, George Okoth-Obbo, speaking at the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) Special Summit of Regional Heads of State on durable solutions for the protracted Somali refugee situation in Nairobi, commended Somalia’s neighbours for their generosity in providing international protection to refugees in spite of their own socio-economic, national security and environmental challenges.
“UNHCR is delighted by this unprecedented regional effort that commits to providing collective protection and assistance to Somali refugees,” Mr Okoth-Obbo, said welcoming the outcomes of the Summit.
UNHCR called for global responsibility sharing with the region, where communities have been hosting and sharing limited resources with Somali refugees for years.
The UN Refugee Agency also appealed for the need to preserve asylum space for Somali refugees, unable to return home.
“Countries hosting Somali refugees have to find alternative solutions for them locally, focusing on the socio-economic inclusion of refugees side by side with resilience support for host communities. We invite the countries to also consider local integration, especially for refugees who have integrated, for example, those married to nationals.”
Though voluntary returns continue, security, access and absorption limitations restrict the scale of returns to Somalia, at the present moment. Thus, UNHCR highlighted the importance of creating predictable peace, security, social and community conditions, for Somalis in the country and refugees whose decision to return, can thus be more sustainable.
At the same time the summit highlighted that voluntary return is not the exclusive option and has urged heightened international solidarity and responsibility sharing through continued resettlement of Somali refugees and provision of complementary pathways for third country admissions – such as medical evacuation and humanitarian admission programmes, family reunification and opportunities for skilled migration, labour mobility and education.
More than two million Somalis have been displaced in one of the world’s most protracted displacement crises. There are an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons within Somalia and 900,000 Somali refugees – many now third generation -in Kenya (324,000), Ethiopia (241,000), Yemen (255,000), Uganda (39,500) and Djibouti (13,000).
George Okoth-Obbo said at the same time, the drought is a serious issue and finding solutions must be accelerated.
“We need to recognise that the region faces new challenges, such as the current drought and food insecurity, gripping the region, threatening starvation and death.”
Some 6.2 million people, half of Somalia’s population, are in need of humanitarian aid and levels of malnourishment among children are high, with 944’000 children in acute or even severe malnourishment.
Severe drought conditions across the region have led to food crises in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. Countries are facing the worst drought in 60 years.
UNHCR is urging the need for an immediate scale up of the response to the drought to mitigate and avert famine to reduce its adverse humanitarian impact, including with regard to displacement.
“Time is of the essence and resolute action by humanitarian actors, strongly supported by the international community, is required,” UNHCR’s Okoth-Obbo emphasized.