Somali Refugees: Protecting Their Rights in Cities

from Refugees International
Published on 16 Jun 2010 View Original
Tens of thousands of Somali refugees have sought asylum in cities in neighboring countries but have long been overlooked by humanitarian actors. Many of these refugees have found ways to survive in Nairobi, Djibouti, Aden, and Sana'a and have become self-reliant, but others suffer from police harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and forced return. Registration and documentation should be the foundation of refugee protection in cities. Partnerships with community-based organizations and ongoing refugee profiling is essential to identify and serve the most vulnerable. Promoting the protection of refugees in cities helps them live with greater independence and dignity.

Due to ongoing violence, human rights violations, and conflict in Somalia, today there are some 580,000 Somali refugees in four main asylum countries-Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen. Some of these refugees have lived in exile for over 18 years. As Somalis continue to flee the violence in ever growing numbers, they often join other Somali refugees in urban centers across the Horn and East Africa and throughout the Gulf. Recognizing the protracted nature of the conflict, Refugees International visited Nairobi, Djibouti, Aden, and Sana'a to assess the protection and assistance mechanisms in place in these cities, with the objective of identifying gaps and best practices in responding to the needs of urban refugees.

By issuing its policy on refugee protection and solutions in urban areas in September 2009, the UN Refugee Agency affirmed urban areas to be a legitimate place for refugees to reside. While there is a general perception among some aid groups, UN officials, and donor governments that providing protection and assistance in urban areas is a new concept, there are many positive practices that have long been in place. The best programs do not try to replicate camp-based care and maintenance programs but rather work to facilitate refugee access to national or local institutions, services and programs. This reduces the emergence of parallel structures that only target refugees and can lead to animosity with the local population. Most urban programs are more sustainable and less costly than camp-based ones.