‘Growing hopelessness’ grips ‘forgotten’ Somali refugees, warns UNHCR
Nearly one million Somalis in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa and the surrounding region face growing hopelessness as their displacement drags on for decades and donors become fatigued, a senior representative with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has warned.
“There is a growing sense of hopelessness in the camps, because people are feeling forgotten,” said Mohamed Abdi Affey, UNHCR’s Special Envoy on the Somali refugee situation.
The Somali refugee situation, now in its third decade, is among the most protracted in the world, with a third generation of refugees being born in exile. Nearly one million Somalis are displaced in the near region, and a further 1.1 million are displaced within Somalia itself.
Affey was speaking in Geneva after going to Somalia and visiting refugee camps in Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, where 905,060 Somali refugees live in a drawn out exile, some since the 1990s. Last month, he visited Yemen, where he witnessed the increasingly desperate conditions facing refugees in the war-torn country.
The Special Envoy said donor attention was drawn to other emergencies including Syria and South Sudan.
“There’s dwindling attention … because of the fact that it is protracted. The world is focused elsewhere, forgetting a very critical population,” he said.
“Meanwhile hunger is growing, meanwhile frustration is growing, meanwhile desperation is setting in and people are becoming angry.”
As the situation draws on for decades, Affey said that refugees in the camps faced challenges ranging from dwindling food rations as a drought builds in East Africa to limited access to education and skills training, particularly for the youth.
“Refugees should be skilled enough, trained to prepare them for an eventual return so that they can participate in the reconstruction of their country. So that they don’t go back after 30 years, without skills, within the camps we must create these conditions and possibilities.”
Since UNHCR started supporting voluntary return of Somali refugees in Kenya in 2014, a total of 39,316 have returned to their country.