UNHCR issues new legal guidance on protection of Somali refugees

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has released new guidance on the eligibility for refugee status of Somalis fleeing their country.

“The guidance aims to assist those adjudicating international protection claims by asylum seekers from Somalia and those responsible for setting government policy on this issue,” the UN agency said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Ongoing armed conflict and widespread human rights violations continue to affect the civilian population, placing lives in danger and compelling many to leave their homes in search of safety, it said.

According to the UNHCR, insecurity and attacks against civilians continue across large parts of the country, while thnic and social minorities, women, children, and people living with disabilities are among those targeted.

One recent attack on the Hayat hotel in Mogadishu left at least 21 civilians dead and 117 others wounded.

The deteriorating security situation, including human rights violations, exacerbates the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, undermining the government and humanitarian actors’ ability to respond.

Somalia is facing its worst drought in 40 years and there is a risk of widespread famine in the coming months, the agency added.

“UNHCR’s new guidelines assert that States must allow people fleeing Somalia to seek safety, and that their refugee claims be assessed according to international law. Those found to be fleeing violence, human rights abuses and persecution would meet the criteria for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or under regional instruments, or UNHCR’s broader mandate.”

There were 836,300 Somali refugees and asylum seekers worldwide at the end of 2021, most of them — almost 80 per cent or more than 650,000 — hosted in neighbouring and regional countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, Djibouti, Uganda, and Sudan, the UNHCR said.

Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection, applauded the commitment of neighbouring countries to upholding their international legal obligations by keeping their borders open to Somalis who are fleeing in search of safety.

“But we urge all countries to do the same. They can also help provide further support to regional host countries, and increase resettlement places for Somali and other refugees at heightened risk in countries of asylum,” said Tan.

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