Newly arrived refugees wait to be registered at the transit centre in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia last month. UNHCR/J. Ose
In November 2013, High Commissioner Guterres convened a High-Level Panel (HLP) on the Somali Refugee Situation. The Panel included experts and scholars from the international community, academia, and the private sector.
There are more than 1 million Somali refugees, and most are concentrated in states located near Somalia: Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen and Uganda. This is a classic protracted refugee situation, as most refugees are not ready to voluntarily return to Somalia, and resettlement and local integration options are quite limited. As an element of High Commissioner Guterres’ Global Initiative on Somali Refugees, the HLP was asked to take a fresh look at UNHCR’s PRS (Protracted Refugee Situation) paradigm to see what new strategies might be developed.
The HLP took note of the tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and UNHCR, signed in November 2013, but recognized the “dangers of hasty or forced repatriation” and highlighted the need “to actively pursue other creative solutions.”
The Panel generally endorsed the overall goal of a “comprehensive plan of action” for resolving the protracted situation—a plan that would require the participation of hosting and donor states, the private sector, the Somali diaspora, civil society, development actors, and other international organizations. While leaving the terms of such a plan to be worked out among the various stakeholders, the HLP nonetheless identified a number of “principles” that could inform that process:
- Solutions for Somali refugees will be differentiated according to their diverse needs.
- International protection must be offered to Somali refugees as long as they need it.
- Refugee camps should be opened up through increased mobility and livelihood opportunities.
- Refugee participation will be maximized in all actions. Refugees are assets, not burdens; self-reliance activities can help achieve their potential and also prepare them for eventual return.
- Return must always be voluntary, safe and dignified. A realistic repatriation program will be piloted, and implemented where conditions permit.
- Help will be offered to refugee communities, host communities, and communities to which refugees will return.
- New actors will be engaged in finding solutions: including the private sector, the Somali diaspora, women’s groups, and development agencies; their contributions may be in asylum countries as well as in areas of return in Somalia.
- The Somali Federal Government’s commitment will be encouraged, at the same time as engaging regional administrations within Somalia.
- Modern forms of communications will be used to enhance refugee lives.
- Resettlement opportunities must be expanded.
- Naturalization should be considered for long-staying refugees.
- There should be an adequate interlink between solutions for refugees and IDPs.
- The xenophobia faced by Somali refugees around the world needs to be challenged.
If comprehensive solutions are not immediately available, members of the Panel generally supported a shift in strategy under which
asylum [w]ould evolve from a “care and maintenance” approach to one where human potential could be fully realized, and suffering, stagnation and marginalization reversed. This will mean a significant reconceptualization of the refugee experience with a view to making it a positive and transformative one through a focus on self-reliance, skill-building and access to livelihoods opportunities. This may in fact help to transform the situation within Somalia, and will certainly help prepare refugees for eventual return.
As next steps for the Global Initiative on Somali Refugees, UNHCR will organize a regional dialogue in Spring 2014 with affected states, and work towards a global dialogue on Somali refugees to agree a plan of action with the international community.