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UN Says Terrorist Threat Worsens Treatment of Somalis

  • Lisa Schlein

The U.N. refugee agency says there has been an alarming deterioration in the treatment of uprooted Somali civilians, both inside Somalia and in the surrounding region. Agency officials say Somali civilians are suffering a backlash from recent terrorist attacks.

The U.N. refugee agency reports a rise in xenophobic incidents against Somali civilians, both inside Somalia and in neighboring countries. In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in the region, officials say displaced Somalis are being rounded up and deported.

The UNHCR says Somali communities are the frequent victims of verbal and physical harassment, as well as arrests, arbitrary detention, extortion and even push backs of Somali refugees.

For example, U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, says the Somali community in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi has come under suspicion. She says Somalis are increasingly being arrested and detained until they can prove they are refugees. Then they are released.

"We believe this is having a corroding effect on the traditionally quite positive relations between the host communities and Somali refugees, many of whom have spent decades in exile," Fleming said. "One thing we are particularly worried about is the action by the local authorities of Somalia's Puntland region. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, they pushed back more than 900 internally displaced people into the conflict zone in Central Somalia."

Fleming says some of the deportees, mainly Somali men between the ages of 18 and 25, are being detained in the town of Gaalkacyo. She says the U.N. refugee agency and other aid groups are providing them with food, water, medical assistance and blankets.

The UNHCR is calling on the Puntland authorities to halt these push backs. Fleming says her organization believes people fleeing Southern and Central Somalia are in need of international protection. She says forcing people to return to that part of the country is putting their lives at grave risk.

"We fear that those who have fled, fled for very good reason," Fleming added. "Young men in the age group of between 18 and 25 are very often targeted for recruitment by al-Shabab. So…we definitely are extremely concerned about any populations having to return to a place where fighting is raging, violence is indiscriminate and lives are being lost every day."

The United Nations calls Somalia one of the world's worst crises. It says current conditions there are particularly dire. During the past three weeks alone, the United Nations reports 18,000 people have been displaced, 112 killed and around 250 wounded.