As many as 15,000 Somalis have sought asylum since the start of this year in neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan to escape the violence engulfing many parts of their homeland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.
“Growing numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants are now making their way to Djibouti, raising fears that the tiny Horn of Africa nation could become the alternative migration route for Somalis looking for better opportunities in the Middle East,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said today.
Over 2,000 Somali asylum-seekers and migrants have crossed the border into Djibouti since January, compared with 700 people who went there in all of 2007.
Once in Djibouti, many Somalis attempt to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Some 200 of them are intercepted daily and are detained in an old jail in the port city of Obock, which was built to hold 20 detainees but now houses 200 at a time.
According to UNHCR, there are limited resources to care for the intercepted Somalis who are served meals in flimsy plastic bags because there are no utensils.
In the capital Djibouti City, Government offices are packed with large numbers of refugees. Once registered, these asylum-seekers are transferred to UNHCR-backed Ali Adeh camp sheltering 7,000 Somalis.
Kenya has received almost 8,000 Somali asylum-seekers, who have made their way directly to the Dabaab camps which house 184,000 people, mainly Somalis.
Almost 4,000 Somalis have arrived in the eastern town of Jirga in Ethiopia, joining the 8,500 Somalis who arrived in the area last year. The Tereri Ber camp with a 10,000-person capacity is almost full, and a new site is being sought.
Meanwhile, 1,300 Somalis asylum-seekers – the majority of whom are single young men and women fleeing Mogadishu – have entered eastern Sudan so far this year, six times more people than all of 2007.
In a related development, the UN and World Bank – in tandem with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government – are meeting in Nairobi to discuss the country’s economy.
The two-day talks will cover the advancement of peace, economic prospects, investment in African nations, youth employment and job creation, among other issues.
Yesterday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) appealed to Somalia’s international partners to step up their humanitarian efforts.
“The international community must put Somalia at the top of its agenda and press for change before it is too late,” said Peter Goossens, WFP’s Country Director for Somalia. “We call on all authorities in Somalia to help us reach those in need and urge donors not to give up on this country.”
In another development, the UN Special Representative for Somalia has welcomed the announcement by the country’s transitional government that it is ready to hold talks with the opposition.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said the opposition had also informed him of their willingness to meet Government representatives and resume long-stalled reconciliation talks.