Nairobi, 13 December 2016 (UNHCR) – UNHCR’s Special Envoy on the Somali refugee situation today called for regional and international solidarity and responsibility-sharing as a prerequisite for positive progress towards realizing durable solutions for Somali refugees.
Briefing journalists on his recent tour of the main countries hosting Somali refugees, Ambassador Mohamed Abdi Affey cited encouraging consultations with Presidents and Prime Ministers in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda who, without exception, assured him of their commitment to continued protection of Somali refugees and to finding solutions to the Somali situation.
“These leaders are concerned that after so many years, one in ten Somalis remains in protracted exile in the sub-region,” he said. “They welcomed the direction that UNHCR is taking, through its collaboration with the Africa Union and IGAD, and gave their assurances that they would continue to honor their international obligations towards refugees.”
The Special Envoy said he had held fruitful discussions with IGAD and the African Union, who welcomed the opportunity to coalesce around efforts to promote regional durable solutions for Somali refugees. “Sustainable solutions cannot be bilaterally negotiated with individual countries. A collective decision is the only way to confront conclusively the interests of the Somali people,” he said.
Ambassador Affey added that the proposal for a regional framework was well received, and that a regional conference will be organized under the auspices of IGAD to examine the issues in detail and come up with practical solutions.
The Special Envoy thanked donors for the heavy investment made in protecting and assisting Somali refugees over the years. He added that it would take time and substantial additional resources to create a peaceful Somalia, ready for massive refugee return.
Ambassador Affey described the trauma and stigma that accompanies life in exile, where the majority of refugees face an uncertain future. “There is no honor in remaining in a refugee camp for 30 years,” he said. “It nurtures loss of identity and loss of hope. It creates stigma.”
He called for support to promote self-reliance among refugee in order to make them active contributors to the economic growth of the places where they live. “Access to education and livelihood opportunities will ensure that they are equipped to assist in rebuilding Somalia when they choose to return,” he said. He pointed out that the absence of opportunities for proper schooling and employment was driving young people to take dangerous migration to Europe through other countries and the sea.
Referring to host communities as “the frontline ambassadors of their countries”, the Special Envoy appealed for sharing of responsibility through investment in refugee-affected areas. He said the long-term presence of large numbers of refugees creates unbearable pressures on natural resources, like water and forests “We must avoid asylum fatigue setting in by helping host communities in a deliberate way,” he said.
Ambassador Affey told journalists he had observed how humanitarian partners that are supporting governments to protect and assist refugees are struggling under the weight of under-funded programmes. “This is not unique to the Somalia situation,” he said. “It is the biggest challenge we are facing in UNHCR globally.”
To date UNHCR’s requirements for the Somalia situation are funded at 25%. With the resulting shortfall of USD 362 million, the agency is unable to meet basic standards in providing of education, health, water, sanitation and other services for Somali refugees.
The Somali refugee situation is among the most protracted in the world. It has been going on for over two decades, affecting three generations of Somalis. There are currently over one million Somali refugees living in exile in the region (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Yemen), while some 1.1 million Somalis remain displaced within Somalia.
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