Tag Archives: Refugees

World Refugee Day 2012


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Corruption, rape blight lives of Somali displaced

This article is part of an AlertNet special report on humanitarian aid: futureofaid.trust.org

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (AlertNet) – Nurto Isak’s food rations are feeding her, her three children, and — she suspects — the militiamen guarding the camp in Mogadishu where she and other uprooted Somalis have taken refuge.

The city is host to more than 180,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who, like Isak, have fled a killer combination of conflict, drought and hunger back home.

Many risk long, difficult journeys to reach the capital, their sights set on the numerous aid agencies that have set up relief operations to hand out food and treat malnutrition there.

Yet many people at various IDP settlements in the war-torn city complain that food aid is not reaching them and accuse local aid workers working for international and Somali NGOs of taking it to line their own pockets.

“Half of the rations intended for our camp is given to the warlord whose militia are said to be guarding us,” Isak told AlertNet, a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many of the displaced said women were being raped in camps, while others lamented a lack of jobs, health clinics and schools despite the increased presence of aid groups.

Six months after famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the Horn of Africa country remains in the grip of a humanitarian crisis with 4 million people in need of aid, according to U.N. figures.

However, fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels, combined with attacks on aid workers and a history of aid being manipulated for political gain, means Somalia is one of the toughest countries for relief agencies to operate in.

As such, it is a classic case study of the obstacles to effective aid as highlighted in an AlertNet poll of 41 leading relief agencies.

In the survey, more than half the experts cited increasingly complex disasters as one of the biggest challenges to aid delivery — with the use of aid as a political weapon and violence against relief workers also featuring highly.

Last month two staff working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were shot dead by a colleague in Mogadishu, while earlier this month the International Committee of the Red Cross suspended food distribution to 1.1 million people after al Shabaab rebels blocked deliveries to its areas under the militant group’s control.

“This is one of the most complex environments for humanitarians,” said U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, in response to claims by displaced people that food rations were being sold by local aid workers.

“Despite continued efforts to strengthen our monitoring systems, allegations still and will continue,” he said in a statement to AlertNet. “Each allegation is taken very seriously; investigations are conducted and, where necessary, programmes are adjusted. We always raised concerns about gate keepers who seem to control all assistance targeting IDPs.”


Some of the IDP camps — little more than a clutch of flimsy shelters made of sticks and cloth — are directly and indirectly run by government forces or warlords linked to the government, residents say.

Shukri Aden, a resident at another camp, said she had witnessed traders buying food supplies directly from a number of local staff working for NGOs and aid agencies responsible for distributing food in her camp.

“Traders park their cars and lorries beside the camp when it is food distribution day,” the mother of six said.

Once a month residents of the camps are handed a card that allows them to collect 25 kg of rice, 25 kg of wheat flour, 10 kg of sugar and 5 litres of cooking oil, Aden said.

But often they are pressured into handing their rations to a local aid worker who pays them around $5 each — hardly enough to buy food for a day.

The aid worker then sells the food at a marked-up price to a trader, earning thousands of dollars in profits, she said.

“They give us cards to take food but we rarely receive the ration,” said Aden, who has taken to begging and washing clothes to scrape together a few more shillings to feed her family.


A few miles away in Dinsoor IDP camp, Kadija Mohamed, 36, told AlertNet she was raped.

“Three armed men in government uniform came into the camp. The strongest one shone a powerful torch in my eyes, he strangled me and then raped me in front of my crying kids,” she said.

Mohamed, a widow, said she waited for sunrise before making her way to a nearby clinic only to be told there were no doctors.

“Later the camp leaders brought me some painkillers. Now I’m OK but I do not know what diseases I caught from the rape. I have nowhere to go for a check-up,” Mohamed said. “We live in these makeshift shelters. We have no aid agency or government to protect us at night. We are at God’s mercy.”

Isak also said rape was common in her camp.

“They rape even mothers at gunpoint at night — and we are threatened to death should we disclose it,” she said. “The makeshift shelters have no lockable doors, so these men just come in at night and lie on you.”

In its Jan 18 report, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said sexual violence against women and girls was continuing in Somalia. It also said security in the IDP settlements was insufficient and at risk of deteriorating.


Mohamed’s brother, Macalim Ibrahim, 40, reserved his biggest criticism for government officials and local aid workers.

“These local aid workers are building houses with the sale of food intended for the poor displaced people like us,” he told AlertNet. “We are deprived and yet have no government or aid agencies to ask for help.”

He also questioned the effectiveness of some of the aid that has been given.

“Many NGOs come, take our photos, and never come back. For example, one aid agency came and erected this school building made of iron sheets,” Ibrahim said.

“We brought our kids to the school but it did not work more than 7 days. The guys took footage of the kids at school and never came back. And the teachers disappeared.

“Other aid agencies came and built these latrines. That is good but a hungry man never goes to the toilet. We need food and water to survive,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Katy Migiro in Nairobi; Writing by Katie Nguyen; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Few refugees opt to go home

GENEVA – ONLY 251,000 of the world’s 15 million refugees returned to their home countries last year, the lowest rate in two decades, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo forced many refugees from those countries to stay put last year.

Other crises that had appeared to be abating, such as in Iraq and southern Sudan, also proved stubbornly stagnant in 2009, discouraging uprooted people from returning home, Guterres said in a statement accompanying a UNHCR report.

‘Already a majority of the world’s refugees have been living as refugees for five years or more,’ the former Portuguese prime minister said. ‘Inevitably, that proportion will grow if fewer refugees are able to go home.’ About 1 million refugees normally voluntarily repatriate every year, according to the UNHCR.

The world’s overall number of refugees – defined as those who flee conflict or persecution across international borders – was stable last year at 15.2 million.

Over the last decade, at least 1.3 million refugees have been naturalised in another country, more than half of them in the United States. — REUTERS

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Afghanistan: Helmand IDPs tired of leaving their homes time and again

Thousands of families in Helmand have been forced to abandon their homes due to the ongoing conflict and war in the area.

These internally displaced people (IDPs) have since been living in abject conditions as a result of leaving behind their homes, livestock, farms and belongings.

Most of these families move to Lashkargah, the capital, to live in temporary camps. Some stay with relatives, others search for shelter in neighbouring districts, while some continue their painful journey to Kandahar or move as far as Kabul.

Gul Mohammad, who has been forced to abandon his home and village in Helmand’s Nadali district for the fifth time in less than a year, told UNAMA that life hasn’t changed for his family even after several clean-up operations. He regrets that each time the government promises to bring security, it fails to do so.

“The government and NATO forces started fresh offensives in Nadali and Marja. We are forced to leave our homes to safeguard our families. More than 200 families left Nadali and are currently living in Lashkargah. Some are staying with their relatives and some others have rented houses which they can’t afford for too long. They don’t have food, tents and heating material. Neither the government nor aid agencies have provided any assistance to us as yet,” he said.

1. “We are sick of operations in our area every day. We leave our homes. Our children have no future and those who can’t move are stranded due to IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and blocked roads. People are trying to move to safer areas in order to protect themselves. We appeal to the government and NATO forces to… provide us (with) security and better living conditions,” said Ahmad Wali, an IDP from Marja district, who currently lives in a rented house in Lashkargah.

The head of the government’s refugees and returnees department for Helmand, Ghulam Farooq Noorzai, admits a large number of families are coming to Lashkargah from the districts of Marja and Nadali.

“We are in contact with UN agencies and have shared our concerns with them,” said Mr Noorzai. “The UN has promised to release assistance to the new IDPs from Nadali and Marja,” he added.

According to him, the United Nations has provided assistance to over 8,000 IDP families in Helmand province in the last six months.

Lucio Milardo, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kandahar, says the UN is helping the IDPs to build food capacity.

“First, the United Nations is providing humanitarian assistance to the IDPs based on their needs. Second, the humanitarian assistance from the UN agencies should not be aligned with military. Our aim is only to assist people in need and has nothing to do with the military,” he said.

“We are glad that UN agencies are helping the IDPs who have been forced to leave their homes and villages due to military operations. We have a good coordination mechanism in place with all UN agencies, including UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, UNAMA and others and we really appreciate their assistance”, said Mr Noorzai.

Mr Noorzai expects a fresh influx of IDPs from Nadali district, after the recent announcement by the military to launch fresh offensives. He, however, said they are prepared to meet the requirements of up to 15,000 IDPs with the assistance of UN agencies.

The United Nations is up to the task and as part of the UN’s Interagency Contingency Plan for natural and man-made disasters, the UN has pre-positioned sufficient food and non-food items at the provincial level.

United Nations agencies in the regions have always played a vital role in providing assistance to IDPs in Helmand and other provinces.

In 2009 alone, UN agencies assisted more than 30,000 families in the south with humanitarian aid – almost double when compared to 2008 – as displacement continued from areas most affected by the conflict.

By Mujeeb Rahman, UNAMA

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Thailand: Recent arrivals from Myanmar

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, http://www.unhcr.org and http://www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

Today and yesterday we have sent our staff to villages and a cave in northern Thailand to find out more details about a group of Karen people who have fled across the Moei River from Myanmar since last Wednesday.

Estimates of the number vary greatly from about 2,000 people to some 6,400, and one of the first things we would like to do is ascertain the number of people who are in the five sites near Mae Sot.

They are staying in temples and in homes in four villages and in one case, in a cave accessible only by river and by a 40-minute climb up a steep mountain which is very slippery right now because it is raining heavily.

From our preliminary discussions with the few new Karen arrivals we have been able to talk with, it seems some were fleeing actual fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is allied with government forces, and the rebel Karen National Union (KNU). Others say they were fleeing forced recruitment or forced labour by government forces.

A number of the people who have fled to Thailand were already displaced within their own country. They were residents of the Ler Per Her camp for internally displaced persons run by the KNU within Karen-held territory inside Myanmar. All of the people in that camp fled to Thailand across the Moei River when it was shelled, they say.

Many of the people brought their belongings with them, and the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium, a group of non-governmental organizations providing aid to refugees, has supplied them with basic food, mosquito nets, pots and pans and blankets. UNHCR has also given them plastic sheeting.

Most of the new arrivals say they want to stay as close to their villages as possible in order to go home quickly once the situation calms down because they left cattle behind and because it is time to begin planting rice.

UNHCR is working closely with Thai authorities to best respond to the needs of the new arrivals.

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Western nations slam Malaysia over rights record

GENEVA, Feb 12 — Several Western nations took Malaysia to task yesterday over its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at an United Nations human rights record review.

Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands were among the nations that expressed “concerns” for refugees and asylum-seekers detained in Malaysia, as they called on Kuala Lumpur to develop legislation that distinguishes asylum seekers from other migrants.

“We note serious problems faced by refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Malaysia… that is linked to a lack of clarity on their status in the country,” agencies quoted Belgium’s representative as telling the UN Human Rights Council during a universal periodic review session.

Under universal periodic review, all 192 member states of the United Nations have their human rights record vetted by the council once every four years. The session is based on three reports, one submitted by the country under review and two summaries compiled by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

The high commissioner’s report noted the lack of national legislation on refugees as well as absence of laws on the rights of migrant workers.

In addition, it said, “many asylum seeking and refugee children, among them Muslim children from a nearby country, including the Rohingya refugee children who had lived in Malaysia since 1990s, lacked access to formal education”.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa said in his opening remarks that Malaysia prosecutes only refugees who have committed crimes.

Foreign workers are accorded the same rights as local workers, and the rights of illegal immigrants are protected, he told the council.

Human rights groups have accused Malaysia of mistreating millions of foreign workers who live there, as well as asylum-seekers, including thousands from nearby Myanmar, which is under military rule.

Human Rights Watch had singled out Malaysia’s Rela for allegedly beating, threatening and extorting money from migrants and asylum-seekers.

During the session, Chile and France also encouraged Malaysia to eliminate discrimination due to sexual orientation and to “respect the human rights of all individuals, including homosexuals”.

SHAHRUL PESHAWAR – Malaysia should do something better on asylum seekers and refugees, especially on education programmes, however I disagree with the Chile and France opinion in the last paragraph.

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Homeless Palestinians squeeze into tents in Gaza

By Andrew Hammond

HAY AL-SALAM, Gaza Strip, Feb 5 (Reuters) – Thousands of Palestinians are living in tented camps after Israel’s three-week assault on the Gaza Strip, hoping for a swift end to Israel’s blockade so they can rebuild their homes.

Aid workers said on Thursday at least 16,000 people have found temporary accommodation in 10 camps set up in districts laid to waste in a war that local medical officials said left around 1,300 Palestinians dead and more than 5,000 wounded.

But conditions are cramped, with several thousands of tents held up at border crossings from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Israel has limited supplies into the coastal enclave since Hamas Islamists took control in fighting with the Fatah group of U.S.-backed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“I worked for 28 years as a teacher in the United Arab Emirates and I put it all into this house,” said Yousef Abu Eida, pointing to a collapsed concrete mass behind the tents in the Hay al-Salam district of Jabalya refugee camp.

“I lost everything.”

Aid agencies have handed out blankets for the cold nights, when the camp residents gather around log fires. So far, latrines have only been installed in some of them.

But with no formal ceasefire in place between Israel and Hamas, they say they don’t feel safe. The Israeli border is visible only a short distance away.

“We can’t sleep at night. We’re afraid the tanks will come back. They (Israelis) say they want this area as a ‘safe zone’. People are frightened,” said Bashir Khidr, who shares a tent with 20 other people.


As he talks, children navigate the concrete slabs and twisted iron and steel of collapsed homes.

Building materials are banned because Israel says they could be used for making rockets fired into its south.

“We ask European and Arab countries to open the crossings to allow building materials in and humanitarian needs to give shelter to thousands,” said Diab Dhumeida, a charity volunteer.

He said 450 families lost homes in the Salam district and another 340 tents are needed to give each a space of their own.

Aid pledged by countries around the world has only trickled in pending a deal between Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, which borders Gaza on the south.

Khalil Abufoul, head of disaster management unit at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, said that 800 to 1,000 trucks used to enter the territory daily before the 2007 Israeli blockade.

“During the war it fell to 50 to 60 trucks a day — now it’s about 100 to 120 for different organisations and companies,” Abufoul said. “For me this is not humanitarian access, you need more flow than before but the flow is very little.”

(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)


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