The workshop delivered information on international protection as well as answering key questions including: who is a refugee, who is an asylum seeker, and what constitutes a displaced person, as well as outlining the national legal framework on refugees and asylum seekers in Somaliland.
Some participants were surprised to learn the actual number of refugees living in Somaliland. A straw poll at the workshop showed that many believed Somaliland was hosting up to 30,000 refugees. UNHCR told the journalists that approximately 1,750 refugees reside in Somaliland, the vast majority being Ethiopian nationals. Additionally, there are approximately 1,850 asylum seekers in Somaliland – people who have fled other countries and are seeking refugee status. UNHCR stressed the importance of the media conveying the correct figures to the public to avoid inflaming opinion against this vulnerable group of people.
The Director General of the Ministry of Information of Somaliland, Faysal Ali Sheik. stressed that “the role of the media is very important for presenting to the Somaliland community the actual situation regarding refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people (IDPs) as well as the overall responsibility of the government and the international community".
UNHCR Somalia Representative Bruno Geddo said that the workshop was a crucial first step in sensitizing both media and public about the realities of life for persons of concern to UNHCR. “Ignorance breeds hostility, but understanding fosters acceptance,” Geddo said.
The refugees who participated – including those drawn from the recently-formed Refugee Affairs Committee – said they were impressed by the workshop and its role as a “very good forum to sensitize the host communities on their rights” and that it gave them hope that understanding of their situation would improve as a result. On World Refugee Day, when UNHCR’s 1 campaign is highlighting the fact that one refugee without hope is too many, the workshop has brought greater understanding of the plight of refugees in Somaliland, a situation replicated all around the world.
Stability in Somaliland remains a pull factor for many people fleeing insecurity and lack of livelihood from Ethiopia and South-Central Somalia. In addition to 3,600 refugees and asylum seekers, Somaliland hosts 67,000 internally displaced people. Somalia remains the country generating the highest number of refugees in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, more than 700,000 Somali refugees live in other countries in the region including Yemen, Ethiopia and Kenya.
by Rose de Jong