Somalia: UN Warns of Growing Number of Somalia Refugees in Ethiopia

24 September 2019

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned of a growing influx of Somalis that are seeking refuge in Ethiopia amid worsening draught and security woes.

"With already poor security and now a worsening drought, more than 5,000 Somalis have sought refuge in Ethiopia so far this year - about four times the total number that crossed the border in search of safety in 2018," the UN refugee agency said in a statement issued over the weekend, as it emphasized the need to exert concerted efforts to mitigate the challenges that are driving the influx of Somalis into Ethiopia.

"Crop failures, livestock die-offs, and Al-Shabab extortion demands are driving thousands of farmers and pastoralists to abandon their lands and seek refuge," the UNHCR said.

"More families are expected to flee to southern Ethiopia in coming months, as the Horn of Africa country faces its worst harvest since the 2011 famine," it warned.

According to the UN refugee agency, the existing fragile situation in Somalia is "being aggravated still further by militant group Al-Shabab, which determines what crops farmers can grow and levies 'taxes,' extortion payments, on already struggling rural communities."

It also said warned over the extent of the challenge, saying that "UNHCR is increasingly concerned about the risk of climate-related displacement of people, either within their own countries or across borders."

According to Muhammad Harfoush, Protection Officer at UNHCR's Melkadida sub-office, existing insecurity and worsening drought "were clearly driving the spike in new arrivals to Ethiopia."

"Security remains their strongest concern in Somalia but also, the drought is affecting everybody," UNHCR's statement quoted Harfoush as saying, adding "we are receiving reports from new arrivals about cattle loss, scarcity of water, inability to move around to look for water. Life is becoming very challenging."

The growing influx of Somalis is also witnessed at the Dollo Ado reception centre for refugees, which lies just 3 km from the Ethiopia-Somalia border.

According to UNHCR, with the increased arrivals, sometimes as high as 80 people per day, there is not enough space to accommodate everyone, in which "families are camped out on beds that have been pushed against the outer walls of the centre while they await registration and relocation to one of Melkadida's five refugee camps."

"The shortage of available shelters is a major challenge for UNHCR, which plans to provide more shelters to accommodate the growing number of refugees arriving from Somalia," the statement read.

UNHCR also stressed that the Global Compact on Refugees, which was adopted by an overwhelming majority in the UN General Assembly in December 2018, "directly addresses this growing concern."

It also stressed that the Global Compact on Refugees "recognizes that climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements."

The UN refugee agency's latest call came as the UN on Monday hosted the 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York to address the challenge of a changing climate.

"UNHCR is joining the appeal, calling for urgent international action to prevent and mitigate climate-induced displacement," the statement added.

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