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UNHCR Demands Release Of Abducted Somali Staffer

UN refugee agency demands release of abducted Somali staffer

23 June 2008 - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for the immediate and unconditional release of a Somali staff member who was abducted on Saturday from his home outside the war-torn capital, Mogadishu.

As of last night, the agency had not heard anything from Hassan Mohamed Ali, also known as Keynaan, or from the armed gunmen who took him from his home.

"We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Hassan Mohamed Ali," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said yesterday.

He noted that the abduction was another blow to humanitarian efforts to alleviate the suffering of an estimated 1 million people uprooted people inside Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

"He and other Somali staff are absolutely crucial in the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of innocent civilian victims of the ongoing conflict in their country," said Mr. Guterres, who had just returned on Saturday from a mission to neighbouring Kenya during which he visited with Somali refugees in the Dadaab camp near the border of the two countries.

"UNHCR is an impartial and apolitical organization whose sole focus in this extremely difficult situation is to ease the suffering of innocent civilians," he added. "We ourselves are civilians. We are unarmed. We are humanitarians who are committed to serving those in need. It is unconscionable that those trying to help the victims are themselves targeted."

Mr. Ali, who is the longest-serving UNHCR staff member in Somalia, is well-known in Mogadishu as a humanitarian and human rights advocate. He and his family had also been displaced last year by the violence in the capital and were living in Ceelasha village, west of Mogadishu on the road to Afgooye.

More than 300,000 internally displaced Somalis are trying to survive along the Afgooye corridor in what High Commissioner Guterres described last week as possibly the worst place in the world to live.

The humanitarian situation in the country has only worsened in recent months, owing to continuing insecurity, soaring food prices and a lingering drought. More than 1 million people are now internally displaced in Somalia while 450,000 more Somalis are living as refugees mainly in neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and even in Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.

ENDS

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