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UNHCR Denounces Saudi Deportations of Somalis


The U.N. refugee agency is denouncing Saudia Arabia's continued deportation of Somali refugees and asylum seekers to the conflict-stricken Somali capital, Mogadishu. The agency says the action is putting many Somali lives at risk and is calling on Saudi Arabia to stop the practice.

UNHCR says it deplores the continued deportation of Somali refugees and asylum seekers to a country where civilians often are targets of attack.

It says indiscriminate fighting is taking a heavy toll, with being people killed, wounded and made homeless. The agency notes dozens of Somali civilians have been killed and scores wounded in this week's escalation of fighting between government forces and al-Shabaab militants in the capital, Mogadishu.

Given the dangers, the agency is appealing to governments to provide international protection to Somalis until it is safe for them to return home.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says Saudi Arabia is not heeding this plea.

"According to our local NGO partners in Mogadishu who have been interviewing some of these people who have returned, some 1,000 Somalis were deported from Saudi Arabia in June alone," she said. "For July, the total so far is estimated to be close to 1,000 as well."

Fleming says Saudi Arabia has been forcibly deporting around 1,000 Somalis each month for about a year. She says most of these refugees and asylum seekers originate from southern and central Somalia, including Mogadishu.

She says the majority of these deportees say they fled Somalia due to conflict, indiscriminate violence and human rights abuses.

"The majority of deportees are women, including some extremely vulnerable cases, as the one of a split refugee family; a young woman, who fled the violence, as she told us, in Somalia in 2007 and was detained on her way to the market in Saudi Arabia and deported back to Mogadishu with her two very young children," Fleming said.

Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nevertheless, the UNHCR says it does not consider this to be a reason to deny protection to people in need.

The agency notes a number of other countries, particularly in the Middle East, have not signed the Convention. Yet, they are generous in offering asylum to people fleeing persecution and conflict.

Given the deadly violence in Mogadishu, the UNHCR is urging the Saudi authorities to refrain from future deportations on humanitarian grounds.

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