UN: Don’t force refugees back to Somalia

The United Nations again appealed to governments worldwide not to forcibly return refugees to Somalia, where tens of thousands of people have been killed and some two million displaced by years of fighting, as the situation deteriorates even further in the Horn of Africa country.

“We are appealing to all States to uphold their international obligations with regard to non-refoulement,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva, citing the principle in international law on protecting people from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be in danger.

“In recent months there have been incidents of returns . . . These have included a further reported deportation, of over 100 Somalis from Saudi Arabia to Mogadishu [Somalia’s capital] in mid May,” said, noting that inconsistencies in the way that countries deal with people fleeing Somalia were allowing returns to happen and putting lives at risk.

Last week’s appeal came as a major international conference on Somalia got under way in Istanbul, Turkey. The three-day event is being co-hosted by the UN and the Turkish Government in a bid to consolidate political stability, security and reconstruction in the Horn of Africa country, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is embroiled in a raging conflict with Islamist militants.

UNHCR has issued repeated warnings over recent months and on 11 May issued guidelines aimed at strengthening international protection for people fleeing the country, urging countries facing large numbers of arrivals to grant protection to people from southern and central Somalia on a group basis, and to extend complementary forms of international protection where refugee status is not granted.

Ms. Fleming said “a consistent international approach” is needed to ensure the international protection needs of refugees from Somalia, where the situation has been worsening for some time, with food aid suspended in January by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and fighting reported almost daily in Mogadishu.

By UNHCR estimates some 1.4 million people are displaced internally and more than 570,000 are refugees in neighbouring and other countries. People being returned risk being sent into a war zone and can therefore be in considerable danger.

The principle of no forced return, or non-refoulement, is a central element of international refugee law and UNHCR believes no refugee or asylum-seeker in any country should ever be refouled.

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