UNHCR SOMALIA BRIEFING SHEET
Since the fall of the Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somalia fell in the hands of different militias commanded by
powerful warlords, who divided the country along clan lines. Since then, there have been at least 15 attempts to
re-establish a national government, the last of which brought to power Sheik Shariif Ahmed, at the end of
January 2009. Although the establishment of the new National Unity Government is perceived with optimism
by the Somali population and the international community, Shariif is facing overwhelming challenges, as
armed opposition groups continue deadly attacks on government and African Union Peacekeeping forces, and
still control large parts of territory.
The whole of Somalia continues to be in security phase IV (emergency operations), with Mogadishu and other areas
on Phase V (evacuation). This has a very significant impact on the operations of UNHCR and the humanitarian
community as a whole, especially in terms of the limited ccess to the population of concern and the limited
number of staff members who are allowed to operate in field locations.
The collapse of the state, lawlessness and anarchy in the country, led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the
world today, translating into unacceptable suffering of innocent civilians who see their basic rights violated every
day. Somalia has faced for the last 18 years a relentless overall rate of malnutrition of between 15 and 21 percent.
The majority of the population lacks access to health services, clean water and education. Since the last fighting
between Government and opposition forces erupted on May 7th, almost 232,000 people were displaced from
Mogadishu as of the end of May.
Ongoing conflict in the last 18 years continued to generate mass movements of Somali refugees fleeing to
neighbouring countries (524,881) as of the end of July 2009, mainly hosted in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia, Burundi
and Uganda) and internally displaced people (1.3 million, settled mainly in Somaliland and South-Central regions).
In the last two years alone, over one million people have been forced to leave their homes in Mogadishu.
Somalia is a country divided in three regions: Somaliland (a self-proclaimed independent state, not internationally
recognized), Puntland and the South Central Region.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Somalia hosts 1,746 refugees and 18,600 asylum seekers, mainly from Ethiopia. UNHCR’s refugee operation is
focused in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland, with the overwhelming majority of the refugees and asylum
seekers (precisely 90% of the refugees and 85% of the asylum seekers) being hosted in Somaliland.
In the absence of a formal national asylum framework, the situation of refugees in Somaliland and Puntland is
essentially insecure and the overall protection context remains weak. This is particularly highlighted by arbitrary
detention of recognized refugees, as well as the hostility and discrimination towards ‘foreigners’ which impedes
access to the (limited) socio-economic opportunities available to the local population. Refugees do not have a
legal right to work, and access to protection through law enforcement and justice mechanisms are limited.
In addition to trying to advocate to speed up the refugee status determination procedures, UNHCR provides health,
education, shelter and legal assistance to all refugees, in addition to targeted assistance to extremely vulnerable
households of asylum seekers.
2009 Key Facts and Figures
Number of Beneficiaries: 1,380,346
Asylum seekers 18,600
Number of Staff Members:
83 (33 in Nairobi, 50 in the
Field Office Presence: 8 Offices
1 Branch Office (Nairobi)
2 Sub-Offices (Hargeisa, Garoowe)
5 Field Offices (Bossaso, Galkayo, Mogadishu/K-50, Merka,
Somali Refugees in the East and Horn of Africa
Uganda 9,779, Eritrea 4,736, Tanzania 1,531, Ethiopia 43,986, Yemen 145,093, Djibouti 9,371, Kenya 310,385
As of May 2009 the number of IDPs in Somalia is estimated to be 1.3 million. Among them, one million
Somalis have fled Mogadishu over the past two years, following an outbreak of violence between the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and insurgents starting in February 2007. Over 400,000 of them now live
in makeshift shelters along the road linking Mogadishu to Afgooye, some 30 kilometers to the west.
Following relative improvements in the security situation in Mogadishu, over 65,000 internally displaced people and
refugees have traveled back to the capital from various areas of South Central Somalia and Somaliland, as well as
from neighboring countries, such as Kenya and Yemen.
Following the eruption of fighting between Government forces and armed opposition groups on May 7th, almost
232,000 have fled Mogadishu in May.
UNHCR is leading an inter-agency taskforce coordinating emergency relief interventions in Mogadishu.
Since 2006, UNHCR Somalia co-chairs with OCHA the protection cluster, coordinating protection policies and the
implementation of protection programmes targeting 1.3 million IDPs in Somalia. Important component of the
work of the protection cluster, coordinated by UNHCR, are protection monitoring and the population movement
monitoring that allow all humanitarian agencies to have accurate data on number and needs of beneficiaries, to use
as a basis of their programming.
UNHCR also co-chairs the Shelter and NFIs Cluster with UN Habitat. Its coordination work allows all actors to plan
jointly NFIs distributions, avoiding overlaps and gaps. The shelter activities have two main components: temporary
and permanent shelter.
While UNHCR is mainly responsible for the implementation and coordination of programmes related to temporary shelter, UN Habitat is the focal point for the coordination of permanent shelter.
Tens of thousands of people from the Horn of Africa risk their lives to escape conflict, poverty, and recurrent
drought by undertaking a dangerous journey through Somalia and across the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen.
Many die during the journey, while others are subjected to abuse and injury at the hands of unscrupulous smugglers.
The majority of the persons attempting to use these routes come from two main areas: Ethiopia (Oromo, Ogaden and
Tigrinya regions) and Somalia (Somaliland and South Central regions).
The rates of human smuggling continue to rise every year.
While in 2007, 29,500 people tried to cross the Gulf of Aden, in 2008 the number raised to 50,000, with more than 1,000 people who died during the journey. In the first quarter of 2009 only, almost 18,000 people crossed into Yemen, a notable increase compared to 2008 when, at a similar date, some 12,800 had engaged in the journey.
Among the people smuggled there are desperate migrants in search of better economic opportunities as well as asylum seekers and potential refugees who flee from persecution. Until 2006, the number of Ethiopians crossing to Yemen outnumbered Somalis. Most were between 15 and 30 years old, heading to the Gulf States, Europe and other destinations. This trend changed in 2007, with the deteriorating security situation in South Central Somalia
provoking a notable increase in the number of Somalis from the south of the country attempting the journey.
UNHCR Somalia is leading, together with IOM, a task force of humanitarian agencies developing policies and
coordinating responses to protect migrants and asylum seekers who could potentially be smuggled. All the
activities implemented try either to prevent smuggling or to respond to urgent needs of its victims.
To improve the protection of the population, local authorities are trained and sensitized to respect the rights of the migrating population. Through radio messages and leaflets, UNHCR tries to inform as many people as possible about the asylum procedures existing in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland, to make all potential refugees aware of the fact that there is an alternative to risking their lives trying to cross the Gulf of Aden.
The information campaign also warns against the dangers of crossing and the limited opportunities available in Yemen, especially for Ethiopians, who are not recognized as prima facie refugees and, in some instances, are reportedly forcibly returned to their country of origin.
UNHCR also carefully register all potential asylum seekers. All new mothers and pregnant women, as well as all female headed families and elderly people, receive special items and shelter material. Psychosocial support and medical assistance is also provided to the vulnerable people. In particular, HIV positive asylum seekers, receive special attention and assistance in medical centres.
In some cases, UNHCR provides subsistence allowances to vulnerable families in need.
Year Departures Deaths Missing
2007 29,500 1,250 750
2008 50,000 700 360
2009 29,951 203 89
UNHCR Somalia’s Partners
UNHCR’s implementing partners in 2009 are:
ADEO, Bay Women Development Network (BWDN), Center for Education and Development, Center for the Development and Child Rights (CDCR), Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, Girl Development Association, GRT UNA, Hiran Women Action on Advocacy for Peace & Human Rights, Horsed Relief & Development Org., INTERSOS, Islamic Relief, Lasqorey Concern, Khalif Huudow Human Rights, Kaalor Relief and Development, Lower Shabelle Relief & Development Organization (LORDO), Ministry of Interior, State and Security and DDR, Muslim Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam NOVIB, ProAct Network, Relief International UK, Regional Action Organization (RAO), SAACID-Australia, Save the Children UK, Sean Deverux Human Right Organization (SEDHURO), Somalia Social Development Organization, Somalia Association for Rehabilitation and Development (SARD), UNDP Somalia Mine Action, SOLIDARITES, Somalia Birth Attendants Cooperative Organization, Taakulo Community Development Volunteers, We are Women Activists (WAWA), World Vision Somalia, WASDA.
UNHCR Somalia Major Donors in 2009:
Australian Private Donors, Canada, IGAD,
Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, UN Trust
Fund Human Security, USA.
For more information please contact:
Roberta Russo, Associate Public Information Officer, UNHCR Somalia