The United Nations refugee agency today called on Saudi Arabia to halt deportations of Somali refugees and asylum-seekers to the conflict-stricken capital, Mogadishu, where dozens of civilians were killed in escalating clashes this week.
In June alone, more than 1,000 Somalis were reported from Saudi Arabia, according to local reports from Mogadishu, said Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UHNCR).
So far this month, nearly 1,000 more Somalis are already estimated to have been forcibly returned.
Monitoring reports indicate that most deportees say they fled Somalia due to conflict, indiscriminate violence and human rights abuses, with most coming from southern and central Somalia, which includes Mogadishu.
A majority of those being sent back from Saudi Arabia are women, including a young woman who was detained on her way to a market and deported to Mogadishu with her two infants.
“UNCHR consider such deportations to be incompatible with UNHCR’s guidelines on international protection needs of Somali refugees and asylum-seekers,” Ms. Fleming said.
“Given the deadly violence in Mogadishu, UNHCR is urging the Saudi authorities to refrain from future deportations on humanitarian grounds.”
The spokesperson said that the agency is in contact with Saudi officials about introducing a joint screening procedure before deportation decisions are taken, characterizing this as “an encouraging measure.”
UNHCR has consistently called on governments to provide protection to Somali civilians fleeing violence and grave human rights abuses in their country.
“It is our view that involuntary returns to central and southern Somalia under today’s security and humanitarian circumstances in the country place people at risk,” Ms. Fleming stressed.
Fighting between Government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia in Mogadishu has claimed the lives of dozens of civilians, wounding scores more this week. The violence has also driven many more from their homes.
UNHCR today deplored the continuation of indiscriminate fighting in the Horn of Africa country, which has often targeted civilians and homes in heavily-populated parts of the capital.
More than 300,000 of the 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), out of a total population of nearly 8 million, are sheltering in Mogadishu. Most of the uprooted live in poor conditions on makeshift sites in southern and central Somalia.
This week’s events, UNHCR said, highlight the importance of assessing asylum claims from people coming from the area in the broadest possible way.
“Where refugee status is not granted, UNHCR is advising governments to extend complementary forms of international protection, which would allow Somalis legal residence until conditions improve for safe return,” Ms. Fleming stated.