20 June 2014

UNHCR’s updated position on returns to Southern and Central Somalia recommends that Somali asylum seekers from areas currently or recently affected by military action and/or consequent displacement, or from areas under the control of non-State groups, are likely to have a well-founded fear of persecution and therefore meet the criteria for refugee status.

Reasserting UNHCR’s position in their previous update in January 2014, the new update notes that the criteria for refugee status may also be met by a Somali applicant from an area under effective Government control and not affected by military operations, if they meet one of the potential risk profiles listed in the January 2014 paper, e.g. a perceived supporter of anti-government groups.

UNHCR notes that the security situation in Southern and Central Somalia is reported to have deteriorated since the January 2014 update, which recorded the weak capacity of the State to protect civilians, massive displacement, weakened community structures, gross human rights violations and the breakdown of law and order. These are the ‘devastating consequences’ of the protracted conflict between government forces and non-state armed groups, which have effective control over large parts of the region.

The military offensive against non-State groups has resulted in the displacement of 73,000 people since March 2014. Criminal harassment and extortion of money from displaced persons is reported along transit routes between key towns. Areas where the State has re-established control are ‘expected to remain fragile for some time’, as justice and security structures require re-building.

UNHCR highlights that, since December 2013, over 34,000 Somalis, including children, elderly people, registered asylum seekers and recognised refugees, have been deported from different countries to Somalia.

This update also recommends that any Somali considering a spontaneous and organised voluntary return to Somalia should be provided with as much detailed information on the situation in their place of origin as possible, in order for them to make a fully informed choice.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 June 2014.
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