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Somalis Face Massive Humanitarian Crises - UNHCR

Somalis face one of world's worst humanitarian crises, UN refugee chief warns

19 June 2008 - The United Nations refugee chief has spotlighted the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Somalis and Kenyans on the eve of World Refugee Day, calling on the international community to accelerate its efforts to help people in both countries return safely to their former homes.

Visiting Dadaab refugee camp yesterday on the Kenyan-Somali border, where he then stayed overnight, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres described the plight facing Somalis as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Mr. Guterres stressed the urgency for a political solution to the deadly conflict wracking Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991.

"Only peace can solve the problems of the 200,000 people living in Dadaab in such dramatic circumstances," he said, noting that the camp has swelled to more than double its planned capacity when it was established 16 years ago.Only peace can solve the problems of the 200,000 people living in Dadaab in such dramatic circumstances
"Children have been born here in this camp. They are now in secondary school and still there is no peace in Somalia," a female refugee told Mr. Guterres.

The most recent statistics indicate there are about 457,000 Somali refugees around the world, with the most in Kenya, but many others in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. Another 1 million people are internally displaced in Somalia.

Noting that World Refugee Day is being celebrated tomorrow, the High Commissioner pledged greater support from the agency to alleviate the situation faced by Somalis.

He also visited internally displaced Kenyans in the town of Naivasha, where they have been living after deadly post-election violence broke out at the start of the year.

Although more than 195,000 Kenyans have returned home since the violence subsided, about 43,000 remain in camps around the country, including two such camps in Naivasha.

Mr. Guterres told internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the Naivasha camps that his visit was "an expression of solidarity with the Government and the people of Kenya." UNHCR has provided tents and other aid supplies to displaced Kenyans this year, and trained many local relief workers.

"A camp should only be a short-term solution, but we try to make it as dignified as possible for those who must spend time there. Our biggest wish is that you will soon be able to go home in safety and dignity."

As part of its activities to mark World Refugee Day, UNHCR is also launching a pioneering application with the social networking website Facebook to raise funds and awareness about refugee protection.

The application, launched today, provides a variety of activities for Facebook users - estimated at more than 80 million - which are then matched by donations from UNHCR partners.

Claudia Gisiger-Gonzalez, senior external relations officer for UNHCR, said the arrangement was "a cutting-edge experiment" for the agency that brings together technology and new media tools to promote its work.

UNHCR is already using other popular social networking websites, including YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, Reddit and Deli.cio.us.

ENDS

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