Somalia’s stabilisation is on course in spite of monumental challenges

By Asad Cabdullahi Mataan

More than two million Somalis have been displaced in one of the world’s most protracted humanitarian crises that has now entered its third decade.

An estimated 1.1 million people are internally displaced within Somalia and nearly 900,000 are refugees in the region with estimates of over 324,000 in Kenya; 245,000 in Ethiopia; 255,000 in Yemen ; 41,000 in Uganda; and 13,000 in Djibouti.

I salute the IGAD member states, and Yemen, for the exceptional generosity they have extended to Somali refugees in their greatest time of need. Without exception, they have shown exemplary compassion, allowing women, men and children who had nowhere else to go, to seek refuge on their territories.

Notwithstanding their own monumental needs, Somalia’s neighbours have generously kept their borders open, provided refugees with security and protection, and unfailingly shared meagre resources like land, water and firewood.

We must not forget that in Somalia the impact of war, terrorism and sometimes famine has been devastating.

Today, there are encouraging signs of progress towards improving the situation in Somalia. On the political front, there is new hope following the recent elections. The new president enjoys massive support and greater legitimacy than any other president in the past 25 years.

As Somalia moves into a new phase, other stabilisation achievements are discernible. Security is a case in point. Several IGAD member states — Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — have contributed troops that are working with the Somali national security forces to increase security throughout the country.

It is important, also, to acknowledge ongoing voluntary repatriation movements, albeit on a very small scale, from mostly Djibouti, Kenya and Yemen. It must be emphasised that refugees who choose to return to Somalia are provided with detailed information about the places they are returning to, and that they do so voluntarily.

Conditions in many parts of Somalia are still not conducive for safe or sustainable return.

Upon taking up office as the UNHCR Special Envoy on the Somalia Refugee situation last September, I embarked on a tour of the region, where I met with refugees in Ali Addeh camp (Djibouti), Dadaab (Kenya), Dollo Ado (Ethiopia) and Kampala (Uganda). In Yemen, I heard from Somali refugee representatives in Aden and Sana’a.

Behind the 900,000 statistic are women, men and children with dreams and aspirations, and a deep longing for home. They pleaded with me to urge the governments that protect them to allow them opportunities to participate in productive economic activity, rather continue to lead an existence of total dependency.

Although the stabilisation of Somalia is already on course, the journey ahead is fraught with monumental challenges. Surmounting them will be critical for delivering socio-economic and peace dividends — vital building blocks for the restoration of a viable state.

Those building blocks include addressing the continuing threat of terrorism and the complexity of security reforms. Somalia needs support to build functioning state institutions, democratic governance, and rule of law. Somalia needs support to meet the needs of its citizens and re-establish social cohesion. Somalia needs support to stimulate employment opportunities, restore vital public services and rehabilitate social infrastructure.

Prevailing drought conditions in the sub-region and the threat of famine are further complicating the situation in Somalia. It is expected to worsen in 2017, with large populations likely to experience famine. Effective responses are required to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
Inside refugee camps, where the World Food Programme has been forced by lack of funds to impose ration cuts. Urgent action is needed to address an ongoing nutritional crisis.

I would like to caution that durable solutions cannot be realised overnight. In the spirit of the New York Declaration, countries of asylum must continue to exercise solidarity and generosity, and keep their borders open to those in need of asylum.

It is also necessary to counter negative perceptions of Somali refugees, and rather support them to become self-reliant agents of positive transformation. The majority of Somali refugees are currently living in camps, where access to education and meaningful employment is severely limited. I am appealing to IGAD countries to support refugees to acquire useful skills so that when the time comes to return home, they too may contribute to nation-building. I am appealing for bolder policies that allow refugees to seek employment, do business and enjoy freedom of movement.

It goes without saying that refugee hosting countries cannot achieve such goals on their own. It is troubling that in a region where countries are grappling with multiple refugee situations funding levels for humanitarian responses are grossly inadequate.

In the spirit of the New York Declaration, donor states must match the generosity of African countries, and moreover support host communities by enhancing their capacities to absorb large numbers of refugees.

Other partners, notably development actors, international financial institutions and private investors must participate in concerted efforts to promote social and economic empowerment of refugees and the communities that host them.

I am making special appeal for resettlement countries to increase their quotas, and for countries that have decided to shrink resettlement to reconsider their positions. Resettlement benefits only a very small percentage of refugees. Still, the dividends in terms of providing opportunities to citizens who will one day contribute to building the nation, cannot be overrated.

The historic IGAD Summit refocuses world attention on the need for durable solutions for Somalia. At a time when the international community is preoccupied with crises in Yemen, Syria and South Sudan, which are generating massive forced displacement, Somalia’s plight appears to have been forgotten.

The Summit therefore sends a strong positive signal that Somalia is not forgotten. It is an acknowledgement that a viable state cannot be restored without concerted action by the government of Somalia, IGAD member states and the international community at large. We must all work together to achieve the stabilisation of Somalia.

Mohamed Abdi Afey

The East African