A Report on the Displacement Situation in the Horn of Africa by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees



A report on the displacement situation in the Horn of Africa by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Table of Contents:

A recent history of the Somali crisis
The drought and famine in the Horn of Africa
The organizational basis for humanitarian aid

A report presented to the General Assembly by the High Commissioner for Refugees
Persons of concern to UNHCR within and outside of Somalia
Major challenges in the protection of displaced populations

Questions a resolution must address

Bibliography and recommended reading


The TEIMUN 2012 General Assembly will convene to discuss the recent displacement situation in the Horn of Africa, with a special focus on Somalia. Due to armed conflict and natural disasters, large numbers of people in the region have been forced to flee their homes in search of food, shelter and protection. This background paper will start by giving you a brief overview over the political and meteorological background of the humanitarian crisis, as well as over the different organizations and United Nations agencies involved in supporting the affected populations. Its second part consists of a report on the situation by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), written for TEIMUN purposes. It lays out the challenges at hand and the possibilities UNHCR has to lessen the burden on the people of concern in the region.
Somalia has experienced one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. In Central and Southern Somalia, ongoing fighting has been forcing people to flee for over twenty years. In 2010 and 2011 severe drought and famine struck the entire Horn of Africa region. The conjuncture of armed conflict and declining chances of survival due to natural disaster has caused a massive wave of migration both inside Somalia and across its borders. The result is that thousands of Somalis have been forced to become refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and asylum seekers. This has especially caused an increasing strain on Somalia’s neighboring countries. Being in the same region, they also suffer from drought and their resources are stretched to meet the needs of both nationals and refugees. Humanitarian aid is indispensable to ensure the survival, health and livelihood of the many displaced persons in the region. For many relief organizations this is one of the most large-scale operations ever undertaken.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one of the United Nations’ humanitarian relief agencies. Together with a large number of partners such as other United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UNHCR reacts as quickly as possible to humanitarian emergencies. The crisis in the Horn of Africa is one of the most comprehensive and complex operations a group of humanitarian organizations has had to face in a long time. It has required large amounts of material aid, diplomatic negotiation and organizational effort to provide acceptable living conditions for the displaced populations.
The TEIMUN General Assembly will have the task of discussing, drafting and possibly passing a resolution on the current displacement situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, taking into account the report presented by the High Commissioner, as well as background information on the reasons for forced migration and its consequences. It will be crucial to address as many of the problems and challenges that have arisen with this crisis as possible. The goal will be to define in what ways humanitarian aid in this region can be supported and developed and to agree on possible solutions to the challenges at hand, as well as on measures to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.


The displacement situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa has many root causes. Two important developments, however, can help to understand the reasons for the forced migration of parts of the Somali population: the internal conflict in Somalia and the recent drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

A recent history of the Somali crisis

One of the main factors leading to the forced migration within Somalia and across its borders into other countries in the region have been, in the past as well as very recently, the internal conflicts the country faces. After the fall and flight of Mohamed Siyad Barre, who had been the country’s president from 1969 to 1991, Somali society broke up along traditional clan divides. The two main oppositional fractions to Barre’s regime, the Somali National Movement (SNM) and the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) fell out after the regime’s collapse. A humanitarian crisis followed, due to the fact that the fighting between the two fractions had cut off food supplies. During the next four years, until 1995, three different international military interventions tried to secure the access of humanitarian aid to the country: the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I, 1992), the Unified Task Force led by the United States (UNITAF, 1992-1993) and UNOSOM II (1993-1995). Once the interventions had been withdrawn, the central and southern regions of Somalia experienced the rise of armed groups, mostly originating from existing clans and led by influential leaders. International media gave these leaders the title of “warlords”, a title that is still used today.
Since 1991, multiple international peace processes have tried to help install new central governments in Mogadishu. Fourteen attempts have been unsuccessful so far, leading Somalia to be seen internationally as a “collapsed state” or “failed state” . The fifteenth and most recent attempt has resulted in the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG), whose mandate has recently been extended to August 2012. The TFG has gained a foothold in the capital under the protection of the newest international intervention, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). However, despite this modest success, the TFG has not been able to put in place effective institutions for the Somali population. One of the largest threats to the TFG is currently the Islamist movement of the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (the Movement of Warrior Youth, or al-Shabaab), an armed group that dominates vast parts of Somali territory and whose attacks have extended into other countries in the region such as Uganda and Kenya. Humanitarian aid has not been able to reach the regions under al-Shabaab control for several months, forcing the concerned population to seek it elsewhere.

The drought and famine in the Horn of Africa

In July 2010, a weather phenomenon called “la Niña” occurred in the eastern tropical Pacific which lasted roughly until May 2011. “La Niña” refers to the cooling of ocean surface temperatures in those waters, which causes weather changes across the globe. In the case of the Horn of Africa, it caused a substantial reduction of the usual annual rainfall from July to December 2010. The drought that followed especially affected Somalia, parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya and lasted until September 2011. It was one of the worst droughts in the Horn of Africa in sixty years. On 20 July 2011, the United Nations declared that two Somali regions were in a state of famine (Lower Shabelle and Southern Bakool) with over two million Somalis facing starvation.
The drought caused a steep rise in cereal prices and high livestock mortality and the international financial relief response to the emergency was slow in coming. Food prices always depend on the relationship between the supply of food and its overall demand. In the case of the Horn of Africa, the steep rise in food prices was not caused by the drought alone, but also by the ongoing conversion of a large part of the region’s crops into ethanol, as well as severe ups and downs in the global food market. The farming population was forced to sell their possessions to buy food and the accumulated debt created a spiral of poverty and hunger.
The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates the number of people in need of humanitarian aid in Somalia alone to have been at 2.4 million in November 2011; this represents roughly 32% of the Somali population. WFP also estimated that 3.75 million people were in need of food assistance in Kenya and 4.5 million in Ethiopia. Widespread malnutrition, especially among children, is one of the most important concerns in the region.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UCCD), the chances of droughts and therefore famines occurring in the Horn of Africa have increased over the past two decades. Since a drought does not happen from one day to the next but can be anticipated, WMO and UNCCD call for the implementation of national drought monitoring an early warning systems in the affected countries. They also “stress the need for effective, long-term solutions to the root causes of famine in drought-prone regions, such as the implementation of drought management systems and measures to stop desertification, which means land degradation in drylands”. Due to climate change, the increase in droughts is not a reversible process: “by altering the familiar spatial and temporal patterns of temperature, rainfall, solar radiation and winds, climate change will contribute to exacerbate desertification”.
Meteorological phenomena, while capable of causing a drought, are never the only factor in the appearance of famine. A peaceful country with strong social institutions has a much larger chance of helping its concerned population survive a drought than a country suffering from inner conflict (see the above paragraph). Ethnic marginalization is another factor that can prevent populations from getting the necessary aid. The Somali population already living in Ethiopia is a good example of a marginalized ethnic group which, in times of drought and famine, rarely receives any support.

The organizational basis for humanitarian aid

The mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is based, among others, on its 1950 Statute , the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 Protocol (General Assembly Resolution 2198 XXI) . According to the Convention, a refugee is a person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country” . An internally displaced person on the other hand, faces the same sort of persecution, but has fled to another region within his or her own country. Even though the Convention does not mention IDPs or natural disasters, the same support mechanisms have been put in place by UNHCR and its partner organizations in the Horn of Africa.
In case of a food security emergency, the first material aid that is needed, even before shelter and medical care, is food. The World Food Programme is one of the UN agencies that have specialized in humanitarian aid and emergency relief. Due to the current crisis, WFP is providing nutritional aid to populations in need in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda. Its target is to provide enough food to 10.9 million people as soon as possible, which means accessing regions it has not yet been able to access due to conflict for instance. Refugee camps (in Kenya and Ethiopia, for example) heavily rely on WFP’s frequent food provisions, which are then distributed among the camp’s inhabitants. Practical measures to provide emergency food in large quantities while preserving the local market from damage include food-based transfers (general rations, food-for-work, supplementary feeding, vulnerable group feeding and school feeding), food subsidies and cash or voucher transfers.
Emergency response is very important to prevent worst-case scenarios coming true in times of crisis. However, in the future, the international community needs to avoid waiting to step in until the very last minute, when the crisis has already hit. So doing, they could prevent many people from losing their lives unnecessarily. This is why recent discussions in international forums have tried to define ways with which to reduce the risk of a disaster before it can hit (disaster risk reduction, or DRR mechanisms). A possible solution would be a higher investment in agricultural assistance long before it is too late – this has been one of the topics discussed at the most recent G20 summits. The United Nations agencies and their partner organizations have developed similar strategies to overcome food price volatility and reduce the risk of further disasters. These include measures to increase agricultural productivity, sustainability and resilience, to increase market information transparency, to buffer global food stocks and safety nets, as well as to encourage governments to set up policies to protect their agricultural sector from market fluctuations. These and other measures might help to prevent future instabilities from escalating.

The following report, written for TEIMUN purposes, has been modeled after the reports the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (currently Mr. António Guterres) presents to the General Assembly annually. The reports are either of a general nature and describe worldwide displacement trends, or, like the following one, they can focus on a specific topic or region.

A Report presented to the General Assembly by the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Dear Chairperson, honorable Delegates,

The year 2011 has been one of the most challenging years in the history of the High Commissioner for Refugees. Sixty years after the ratification of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, the organization has experienced more emergency situations in one year than ever before. UNHCR currently counts 33.9 million people of concern under its direct or indirect mandate. One of the more complex crises was and remains that of the situation of mass forced displacement within Somalia and into its neighboring countries, due to the famine and the continuing civil war.
In the case of an emergency where hundreds or even thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in order to survive, UNHCR and its partner organizations try to be on the ground within two or three days of the first signs of crisis to set up refugee camps in a safe and stable location. These camps are intended to be able to host a large number of displaced people and to provide them with shelter, food, sanitation and basic health care as quickly as possible. Once the situation has become less dangerous and the emergency has come to an end, more durable solutions are needed for the refugees or internally displaced persons. If the danger in their home regions has passed altogether, people can return voluntarily. However, if there is no possibility to do so and the crisis becomes protracted, other solutions must be found, such as local integration in the country of asylum, or resettlement to a third country.

Persons of concern to UNHCR within and outside of Somalia

Somali nationals who have had to cross international borders in order to ensure their survival have for the most part been accepted as refugees both by Somalia’s neighboring countries and by UNHCR, due to the fact that they are fleeing not only famine and starvation, but also violent civil war. In November 2011, UNHCR counted a total population over 520’000 Somali refugees in Kenya, over 202’000 in Yemen, more than 184’000 in Ethiopia and around 20’000 in Djibouti and Eritrea, respectively. All in all, almost a million Somalis are currently refugees in neighboring countries. Over a third of these refugees arrived in their host countries in 2011 alone.
The new arrivals have for the most part been hosted in refugee camps; some of these camps had already existed and others were newly built to strengthen the relief capacity. In Kenya, the most important camps are Dadaab and Kakuma, holding 450’000 and 44’000 refugees, respectively, in November 2011. The capital of Nairobi hosted around 30’000 refugees, although statistically it is more difficult to determine the number of refugees in urban surroundings. Ethiopia’s most important refugee camps are Dollo Ado, with a population of 140’000 refugees, and Jijiga, counting 42’000 refugees in November 2011. Addis Ababa does not host many refugees, since the Ethiopian government does not permit refugees to leave their camps and integrate into Ethiopian society.
Within Somalia itself, a large number of people have been internally displaced, without crossing international borders. UNHCR estimates the number of IDPs to have been at 51’000 in December 2011 . This number can only be estimated, due to the fact that the violence in certain regions has prevented all humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it. However, although UNHCR’s mandate does not cover aid to IDPs, the organization has set up an effective Cluster System together with a large number of other organizations, in order to cooperate in reaching IDPs in need of humanitarian assistance.
Not only the above mentioned categories of persons are of concern to the work of the UN refugee agency. Other vulnerable groups include women, children, families, elderly and disabled persons, persons of different sexualities and stateless people. The needs of these vulnerable people are taken into account by UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming approach (AGDM) and the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees from discrimination.
Women and girls constitute on average half of the refugee population. They face very different challenges and dangers than men and boys, when it comes to surviving through conflict and persecution. Violence against women is a very important problem in the chaos of war and even within refugee camps. Another large group of concern are children, who also represent about half of all displaced people. Children, apart from being especially vulnerable to health problems such as epidemics and malnutrition, can face depression in an environment without mental stimulation. It is therefore very important to provide young refugees with adequate educational and recreational possibilities from the very beginning, such as diverse lessons, games and opportunities to practice sports. Elderly and disabled people face a different range of challenges: lack of mobility due to physical or mental handicaps, arthritis and limited eyesight or hearing, as well as vulnerability to all kinds of ailments that stem from living in suboptimal conditions. They need more support than the young and healthy refugee population.

Major challenges in the protection of displaced populations

Some of the largest challenges to the protection efforts of UNHCR and its partners are the effective emergency preparedness and response, the security of refugees and humanitarian staff, as well as statelessness among refugees and asylum seekers.
The budget of UNHCR is planned a year in advance and its finances are based on voluntary donations by its member states and private donors. In 2011, more unforeseen emergencies occurred than ever before, stretching UNHCR’s financial and material capacity to the maximum. The humanitarian organizations involved with refugee protection have helped to organize a network of transportation mechanisms able to move the necessary materials and provisions from diverse stockpiles to their destinations. However, these stockpiles are calculated assuming an average amount of emergencies. 2011 proved to be a very trying year both financially and logistically.
From a security standpoint, humanitarian work is becoming more and more dangerous. Kidnappings and deadly attacks both on refugees and on humanitarian aid workers happen almost on a weekly basis. In the Kenyan and Ethiopian camps hosting Somali refugees, as well as in their capitals, reports of violence and kidnappings have increased; many of the more recent attacks have been attributed to the Somali al-Shabaab movement.
Statelessness is a problem when it comes to the registration, legal protection and local integration or resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers. There are multiple reasons why a person might lack a nationality. Political or social affiliation, ethnic background, flight or gender might contribute to the loss of a nationality once held; laws prohibiting mothers from transmitting their nationality to their children or certain ethnic groups from being registered legally can prevent birth certificates from being issued. To be able to protect refugees, the international community needs to ensure that each person can obtain a birth certificate and therefore an individual identity.

The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees urges the UN member states present in the General Assembly to consider the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people that have had to flee from persecution or starvation in the Horn of Africa and to do everything in its power to help protect their rights and livelihoods, as well as to prevent a similar crisis from happening in the future.

Questions a resolution must address

Question 1:

One of the two main reasons for the mass displacement of Somali nationals is the ongoing civil war and the lack of power of the Somali Transitional Federal Government. The only force withstanding the armed groups in the country is the African Union Mission in Somalia, another temporary structure. What does the General Assembly agree upon as possible steps towards peace and stability?

Question 2:

The other main reason for the mass displacement of Somali nationals is the recent drought, a natural disaster that, according to meteorologists, will become more frequent in the future. The lack of government institutions in Somalia entails an equal lack of buffers with which to help Somali nationals survive. What measures does the General Assembly see as necessary to foresee such occurrences in the future and to prevent another widespread humanitarian crisis?

Question 3:

In the above report, the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees mentions that the Somali humanitarian crisis has caused many people to become refugees or internally displaced persons. What is the General Assembly willing to do to ensure that humanitarian aid in this case and in similar cases in the future can effectively secure the livelihood of hundreds of thousands?

Question 4:

The High Commissioner also mentions the more vulnerable categories of refugees and IDPs, such as women, children, elderly and disabled people stateless people and people of different sexualities. What is the General Assembly willing to do to help protect these people from discrimination, violence and unnecessary misery?

Question 5:

When protecting displaced persons, humanitarian relief organizations face a number of challenges. These can be related to emergency preparedness and response, to the security of refugees and humanitarian workers, as well as to the lack of nationality of many persons of concern to these organizations. What does the General Assembly agree must be done in order to make the work of humanitarian organizations easier and more effective?

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