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UNHCR Calls for Deportations of Somalis to Stop

The United Nations refugee agency is calling on all states to stop forcibly deporting Somali asylum seekers whose lives might be in danger if they are returned home. Officials with the refugee agency say they are very concerned about Saudi Arabia's recent deportations of Somalis.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is not safe to send Somali asylum seekers home. Agency officials say all deportations to Somalia must stop given the precarious situation in the country.

The United Nations' agency is urging all states to uphold their international obligations and refrain from forcibly returning people to Somalia, a country plagued by armed conflict and generalized violence.

Spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, says returns to central and southern Somalia must take place strictly on a voluntary basis.

"The practice of states with regard to assessment of protection needs regrettably varies quite a lot," said Melissa Fleming. "In recent months, there have been incidents of returns. Since the release of our eligibility guidelines, these have included a further reported deportation of over 100 Somalis from Saudi Arabia to Mogadishu in mid May."

Fleming notes Saudi Arabia has not ratified the 1951 International Refugee Convention. But, she adds, this does not absolve Saudi Arabia of its international obligations to protect people in distress.

She says other countries that are not party to the convention have been very generous toward asylum seekers. For example, she says Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have not signed the convention. Nevertheless, they are housing tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees.

"We have been undertaking a very intense diplomatic effort with Saudi Arabia," she said. "This has not been the first deportation. In fact, this has been ongoing for several months. We are talking about numbers that could be as many as 4,000 who have been returned by Saudi Arabia over the past year."

Fleming says there are other cases in other countries where borders have been closed, registration possibilities have been minimized and in certain individual cases people have been sent back.