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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A little something about International Law

Can a country refuse to admit refugees?
Under international law, refugees must not be forced back to the countries they have fled. This principle of non-refoulement is the key provision of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which defines international law and guidelines to protect refugees. 
Host governments are primarily responsible for protecting refugees and most states fulfill their obligations to do so. Others, however, avoid their responsibility by pointing to a lack of resources, threats to national security, fears of domestic political destabilization, or the arrival of even greater numbers of refugees.  This is a violation of international law that is binding on all states.

What are the solutions to refugee and displacement crises?
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) speaks of three “durable solutions” to refugee crises: return; local integration; and third country resettlement.
The most desirable way to end forced displacement is for people to return home when conflict ends. To return in safety and dignity, families need help with transportation and require basic goods for restarting their lives, including a provisional supply of food, seeds and tools, and building materials for home repair or construction. In addition, support for the reconstruction of schools and health clinics is also critical.

If instability persists or if the individual will face persecution when they return, then integrating into the country of asylum is another option. Most countries hosting refugees, however, are reluctant to allow refugees to integrate and become citizens, fearing competition for scarce resources between the refugees and residents of a particular locale.
Resettlement to a third country can also be a solution for refugees who cannot return home, cannot establish a new life in their country of asylum, or are considered to be particularly vulnerable.
Resettlement can never be an option for more than a tiny minority of the world’s refugee population, but still benefits tens of thousands of refugees who have made new lives in countries such as the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Norway.

In FY 2010, the United States resettled about 73,000 refugees. The countries of origin with the largest numbers of resettled refugees in the U.S. in 2010 were Iraq (18,016), Burma (16,693), Bhutan (12,363) and Somalia (4,884).

Helpful facts and figures about refugees

                                                                Who is a refugee?
A refugee is legally defined as a person who is outside his or her country of nationality and is unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
By receiving refugee status, individuals are guaranteed protection of their basic human rights, and cannot be forced to return to a country where they fear persecution.
In 2010, there were 15.4 million refugees around the world, including 4.8 million Palestinian refugees, and it is estimated that 80 percent of refugees are women and children. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the leading countries of origin for refugees in 2010 were:

•Afghanistan: 3 million
•Iraq: 500,000 – 1.7 million
•Somalia: 860,000
•DR Congo: 476,700
•Burma: 415,700
                                      Who is an internally displaced person (IDP)?
Internally displaced people (IDPs) have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations, but unlike refugees they have not crossed an international border.
Although internally displaced people outnumber refugees by more than two to one, no single UN or other international agency has responsibility for responding to internal displacement. As a result, the global response to the needs of IDPs is often ineffective.
In 2010, there were an estimated 27.5 million people displaced internally by conflict. The largest populations of internally displaced people are found in:
•Sudan: 4.5 – 5.2 million
•Colombia: 3.6 – 5.2 million
•Iraq: 1.3 – 2.8 million
•DR Congo: 1.7 million
•Somalia: 1.5 million
Who is a stateless person?
Stateless people are individuals who do not have a legal bond of nationality with any state, including people who have never acquired citizenship of their birth country or who have lost their citizenship and have no claim to citizenship of another state.
Children of stateless people often are born into statelessness and few manage to escape that status. According to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a de jure stateless person is someone “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” 

Persons are considered de facto stateless if they have an ineffective nationality, cannot prove they are legally stateless, or if one or more countries dispute their citizenship.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has the international mandate for responding to the needs of stateless people and leading the global effort to reduce statelessness. Historically, however, the agency has devoted few resources to this aspect of its mandate.
There are an estimated twelve million stateless people around the world. Refugees International focuses its efforts on reducing statelessness, particularly for the following populations:
•Syria: more than 300,000 denationalized Kurds
•Kuwait: 93,000 Bidoon
•Dominican Republic: an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented individuals of Haitian origin, many of who are stateless or at risk of statelessness
What is an asylum seeker?
An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking to be recognized as a refugee, but has not yet received formal refugee status. During 2010, a total of 845,800 individual applications for asylum or refugee status were submitted to governments and UNHCR offices in 166 countries.
The highest numbers of new asylum claims in 2010 were filed by Zimbabweans, with 149,400 new claims. Large numbers of asylum-seekers also originated from Somalia, DR Congo, Afghanistan and Colombia.

UNHCR to provide final integration support at district level for the naturalized refugees from the Old Settlements

Dar es Salaam, 29th August 2011 (UNHCR) – During his four-day visit to Tanzania from 24 to 27 August 2011, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees T. Alexander Aleinikoff met with various Government officials to discuss the state of the refugee operations in Tanzania.

Of special interest during these discussions was the relocation exercise for 162,000 former Burundian refugees currently settled in Rukwa and Tabora Region and the need to find durable solutions for the two remaining refugee camps in Northwestern Tanzania.
In discussions with the Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees expressed his gratitude for the unprecedented humanitarian gesture of the Tanzanian Government to naturalize 162,000 former Burundian refugees.
“This is a historic contribution to regional stability”, said Aleinikoff after the meeting, “UNHCR and the international community will work with the Government of Tanzania to complete this exercise and locally integrate these naturalized individuals”.
He stated that UNHCR is ready to provide final integration support at district level for the naturalized refugees from the Old Settlements and seeks to engage development actors.

While the Prime Minister confirmed the commitment of the Tanzanian Government on the completion of the relocation and integration exercise, he also noted that the Government needs to hold further consultations on the way forward.
The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees also met with the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr  Shamsi Vuai Nahodha, who stated that the Government is working on a lasting solution for this protracted refugee situation, reminding the international community to keep their promise to support the Local Integration Program.
With regards to the two remaining refugee camps in Northwestern Tanzania, Mr Nahodha reiterated the Government’s intention to close Mtabila camp for Burundian refugees by 31 December 2011.
Interviews with all 38,000 remaining refugees are to commence within the month of September in order to determine which individuals are still in need of international protection. The interviews will be conducted in a joint exercise by the Ministry of Home Affairs and UNHCR Tanzania.
Aleinikoff agreed that voluntary repatriation is the best solution for those Burundian refugees in Mtabila camp. However, he reminded the Government that any repatriation has to be conducted in a manner that is duly compliant with the standards and principles of international refugee protection.

As for the remaining 61,000 Congolese refugees in Nyarugusu camp, the general concern is to reassess the situation and conditions in the DRC after elections have taken place in November 2011. Meanwhile, repatriation will continue to be facilitated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and UNHCR for those individuals who are willing to return home voluntarily.
His four-day mission also gave the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees the chance to meet with some donors, development partners and UN Heads of Agencies, and with selected law students from the University of Dar es Salaam who are engaged in an Advanced Course on Migration and Refugee Law.
Aleinikoff further paid a visit to some of the UNHCR operations in the field such as Mtabila camp in Kasulu Region and Ulyankulu Settlement in Tabora Region in order to interact with the people of concern to UNHCR and the UNHCR field staff.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Camps in east Ethiopia struggle to cope with influx of Somali refugees

Deep in the Ogaden desert – one of the most remote regions in Africa – a sprawling city of tents is emerging. More than 118,000 Somali refugees reside in the three camps run by UNHCR and the government in eastern Ethiopia's Dollo Ado district.
But the camps are struggling to cope with the continuing influx and the UN refugee agency is urgently constructing a fourth camp at Heloweyn to provide shelter for up to 40,000 people. Together with its partners, Médecins Sans Frontières and Save the Children, UNHCR will soon begin to transfer around 15,000 refugees to Heloweyn, some of whom have been waiting for up to one month in the transit centre at Dollo Ado.
About 1,000 kilometres from the capital, Addis Ababa, Dollo Ado lies close to the borders with troubled Somalia and Kenya, where some 400,000 Somalis have sought shelter in the crowded camps of Dadaab.
The refugees in Dollo Ado are being sheltered in three camps – Kobe, Malkadida and Bokolmanyo. Each was designed to accommodate 20,000 people, but the total in each camp is now almost double that.
The new arrivals, almost all of them women and children, are only too willing to tell of the appalling conditions that compelled them to flee and seek safety and succour far from their homes. Years of war have long forced people to flee Somalia, but this year a deadly drought has multiplied the exodus rate.
Barey, a heavily pregnant 31-year-old from the Bay region of southern Somalia, arrived here earlier this week with her five children. They arrived by truck, but did not have enough to pay for Barey's husband and he stayed behind to care for his blind father.
"For the past three years there has been no rain and our harvest has failed again," she explained. "In my village I owned 15 cattle and 100 goats. They all died because there was nothing for them to eat [or drink]."
Person after person staggering into Dollo Ado, many of them after walking for weeks, has a similar story of loss and suffering to tell. Without their livestock and water sources, rural folk from Somalia simply can't survive.
Conditions around Dollo Aldo give an idea of what the Somalis have had to cope with. Vegetation is sparse and sand blasts through the arid terrain. In these conditions, UNHCR teams are delivering shelter, food, water and health services to the displaced. Further aid is on its way, including tents, medical supplies and equipment to drill water wells.
Meanwhile, UNHCR is concerned about fresh violence between government forces and the opposition Al-Shabaab militia, which is also triggering flight in south and central Somalia.
The continuing insecurity makes the journey out of the country more perilous. Forced to move at night through bush areas, some refugees are travelling hundreds of extra kilometres in order to escape notice. Men and teenage boys are at risk of recruitment.
For now, Barey is relieved to have reached safety: "I came to Ethiopia hoping for a better life for my children. But if the rains come and peace returns to Somalia, I want to go back to my country."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

UN: Somali Refugees Top 860,000

The United Nations says the number of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa has topped 860,000, many of them forced out by the ongoing drought and famine.
The U.N. refugee agency says another 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in Somalia's south-central region.
A report issued Wednesday says many Somalis fled their homes after the last of their livestock died, depriving them of income and food.
The agency says that since January, 125,000 Somalis have fled to Kenya, and another 76,000 to Ethiopia. Earlier Somali refugees were largely forced out by fighting between government forces and insurgents.
Somalia is at the center of the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years. The United Nations says more than 12 million people in the region are in need of food aid.
The U.N. recently declared a famine in two parts of southern Somalia, and has warned that famine conditions are likely to spread to other areas in the next four to eight weeks.
On Tuesday, British relief agency Oxfam said governments and donors need to fulfill their pledges of aid more quickly. 
The U.N. refugee agency says large numbers of Somali children are malnourished, and the under-five mortality rate at refugee camps in Kenya is on the rise.
• The word famine is a term that is not used lightly by humanitarian organizations. The United Nations describes a crisis as a famine only when the following conditions are met:
• Malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent
• More than two people per 10,000 people are dying each day
• Severe lack of food access for large population
• Almost half of Somalia's population, 3.7 million people, are affected by the current crisis with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia the highest in the world, surpassing 50 percent in some areas.
• The United Nations says it is likely that tens of thousands have already have died, the majority of those being children.
• The drought that has led to the current famine in parts of Somalia has also affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Previous Famines in the Horn of Africa:
• Somalia 1991-1992
• Ethiopia 1984-1985
• Ethiopia 1974

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

East Africa: UNICEF urges airlines to cut costs of delivering aid

As aid agencies continue to scale up their response to the dire humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is appealing to the air transport sector to provide free and discounted cargo space to bring emergency food supplies into the region.
"Commercial air transport costs as much as the value of the food," Marixie Mercado, UNICEF's spokesperson in Geneva, told a news conference there.
British Airways, Lufthansa, UPS Virgin and Cargolux have already offered free or discounted cargo space, and UNICEF is appealing to other carriers to help transport food aid from Europe to the region to help children who will die without it.
Drought in the Horn of Africa has ravaged large areas of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, leaving an estimated 12.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
UN agencies and their partners are seeking $1.4 billion so they can scale up their response to the hunger crisis, which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Yesterday UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos warned that the famine in two areas of southern Somalia could spread to five or six more regions unless there is a massive increase in funding.
Ms. Mercado stated that more than half of the 2.3 million acutely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa could die unless they are fed within weeks.
Every month, UNICEF had about 5,000 tons of therapeutic and supplementary food to move from warehouses in Belgium, France and Italy - enough to feed 300,000 malnourished children.
This food has to be brought into Nairobi as quickly as possible, and bringing it by air is extremely costly, she noted. The other alternative is to transport the food via sea, for which UNICEF is setting up a pipeline, but that would take several more weeks.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that its ability to deliver much-needed aid is being hampered by the ongoing fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
There were already more than 370,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu before the recent drought- and famine-related displacement, which has driven some 100,000 others into the war-ravaged city, according to the agency.
"The ongoing offensive is negatively affecting the ability of UNHCR and other partners to deliver assistance to populations in distress at a time when their needs are most urgent," said UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba. "We need to maintain access to these people."
Meanwhile, the flow of refugees from Somalia into Kenya continues unabated, with more than 40,000 Somalis arriving in the Dadaab refugee complex - already the largest and most congested in the world - in July. This is the highest monthly arrival rate in the camp's 20-year history, UNHCR said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it is continuing to work in areas affected by the hunger crisis, especially in Somalia where other agencies had severe access problems. The agency is trying to provide cash-for-work programmes, helping famine-hit farmers and herders in Somalia to feed their families.
FAO is following this up with the distribution of seeds and tools, water trucking, vaccination and treatment of animals, meaning that households could quickly resume their farming and livelihoods production in time for the coming rains in September and October, spokesperson Sandra Aviles told reporters.
She also warned that the existence of large displaced populations was placing an enormous strain on the host communities in Kenya and Ethiopia, along with the natural resources of the surrounding areas, and could lead to tension over access to vital resources.

EU and UNHCR visit to refugees in Tanzania

From 27 to 29 July, a delegation of Ambassadors to Burundi and Tanzania of the European Union, Stefan de Loecker and Tim Clarke, visited the refugee operations with UNHCR representatives.
The objective was to assess the situation of the remaining 100,000 individuals who have been living in camps in Kigoma region since 1993 and of the more than 162,000 former Burundian refugees who were granted citizenship by the Tanzanian government and are living in three settlements in Rukwa and Tabora regions since 1972.
In May, the Tripartite Commission between the governments of Tanzania and Burundi, together with UNHCR agreed to close Mtabila camp for Burundian refugees by 31 December 2011. The EU will support UNHCR and its partners to facilitate the voluntary repatriation and the gradual integration of these refugees in their country of origin.
As a result of the mission the EU and UNHCR will work at in particular how to provide suitable conditions in Burundi to promote the repatriation process. As regards the Nyarugusu camp, the delegation noted the concerns expressed by the Congolese refugees about the security conditions in their country and notably the challenges faced by the forthcoming elections.

Mission members were encouraged by recent discussions initiated by the Government of Tanzania regarding the continuation of facilitation of voluntary repatriation to the DRC.
On their visit to the Ulyankulu settlement in Tabora region, the delegation recognized the unprecedented decision of the Tanzanian government to naturalize those refugees who arrived in Tanzania in 1972 and commended this gesture of generosity as exemplary in finding durable solutions for protracted refugee situations.
The naturalized refugees are expected to relocate into 16 selected regions of Tanzania. This exercise will be led by the Prime Minister’s Office – Regional Administration and Local Government (PMO-RALG) with the support of UNHCR and other UN agencies.
While hearing the concerns of the community and ensuring they would have access to appropriate health and education facilities, the EU Ambassador to Tanzania, Tim Clarke, said “Tanzania is at a crossroads in how to deal with refugees, many of whom have been hosted by the Government for four decades. All parties want to make the naturalisation and the relocation process a real success – a win-win for all, but no one should underestimate the challenges ahead.”

“We are waiting for the Government decision on when to start the relocation. UNHCR gave assurances that will closely follow and monitor your integration into the country with the support of our partners,” assured the UNHCR Representative to Tanzania, Oluseyi Bajulaiye, to the newly naturalized Tanzanians.
“Thanks to our donors, we will enhance the social services in the receiving regions to make sure that the local communities will also benefit from your presence”, he added.
Other members of the delegation were the EU Head of the Political Section to Tanzania, Tom Vens, the ECHO team in Burundi, Isabelle D’Haudt and Alexis Mangona, the UNHCR Deputy Representative to Burundi, Barry Abdoulaye, the UNHCR Head of Makamba office in Burundi, Wella Kouyou, and the UNHCR Associate External Relations Officer to Tanzania, Jerome Seregni.
The Government of Tanzania was represented by Deusdedit Masusu, from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Swahiba Mndeme, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.