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Somalia

How many years do refugees stay in exile?

Xavier Devictor's picture
"The average length of time that refugees spend in camps is 17 years." This cruel statistic has been quoted many times, influencing our perception of refugee crises as never-ending events which are spinning out of control. It has significant implications when deciding the type of aid that is needed, the combination of humanitarian and development support, and the possible responses to the crisis.

But is it true? Not so.

In fact, the "17 year" statistic comes from a 2004 internal UNHCR report, and it was accompanied by many caveats which have been lost along the way. The statistic does not refer to camps, since the overwhelming majority of refugees live outside camps. It is limited to situations of five years or more, so it is an average duration of the longest situations, not of all situations. Most importantly, it refers to the duration of situations, not to the time people have stayed in exile.

Take the situation of Somali refugees in Kenya. Refugees started to arrive massively around 1993, about 23 years ago. Their number now stands at 418,000. But can we say that all 418,000 have been in exile for 23 years?

In fact, forced displacement situations are inherently dynamic. As we see in Figure 1, numbers vary every year: they reflect political and military developments in the country of origin. In fact, a large part of the current total could not have arrived before 2008, i.e. about 6 or 7 years ago.
 
 

Figure 1 Number of Somali refugees in Kenya (UNHCR data)

Along these lines, and using data published by UNHCR as of end-2015, we re-calculated the earliest date at which various cohorts of refugees could have arrived in each situation (see working paper). We then aggregated all situations into a single "global refugee population" and calculated global averages and median durations.

So what are the results?

When we look at the "global refugee population" (See Figure 2), we can now distinguish several distinct episodes of displacement.
 


Figure 2 Number of refugees by year of exile

There is a large cohort of about 8.9 million "recent refugees," who arrived over the last four years. This includes about 4.8 million Syrians, as well as people fleeing from South Sudan (0.7 million), Afghanistan (0.3 million), Ukraine (0.3 million), the Central African Republic (0.3 million), and Pakistan (0.2 million).

Another large cohort, of about 2.2 million, has spent between 5 and 9 years in exile. It includes refugees from Afghanistan (0.5 million), the bulk of the current Somali refugees (0.4 million), and people fleeing from Colombia (0.3 million) and Myanmar (0.2 million).

About 2 million people have been in exile between 10 and 34 years. This includes years during which numbers are relatively low, and two episodes where they are higher, around 14 years ago, with the arrival of about 0.2 million Sudanese refugees, and around 24 and 25 years ago, with the arrival of about 0.1 million Somalis and 0.1 million Eritreans.

Lastly, a large group of refugees has been in exile for 35 to 37 years: these 2.2 million refugees include mainly Afghans, but also about 0.3 million ethnic Chinese who fled into China during the 1979 war with Vietnam. Finally, there are few very protracted situations, up to 55 years, including mainly Western Sahara.

We can now turn to average durations. As of end-2015, the median duration of exile stands at 4 years, i.e. half of the refugees worldwide have spent 4 years or less in exile. The median has fluctuated widely since the end of the Cold War, in 1991, between 4 and 14 years, and it is now at a historical low. By contrast, the mean duration stands at 10.3 years, and has been relatively stable since the late 1990s, between 10 and 15 years.

But this leads to another important finding: trends can be counter-intuitive. In fact, a decline in the average duration of exile is typically not an improvement, but rather the consequence of a degradation of the global situation. The averages increase in years when there are relatively few new refugees, and they drop when large numbers of people flow in, for example in 1993-1994 (with conflicts in Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda), in 1997-1999 (with conflicts in DRC and other parts of Africa), after 2003 (with conflict in Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan), and since 2013 (with the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic).

We also looked at the number of people who have spent more than five years in exile. As of end-2015, this number stands at 6.6 million, and it has been remarkably stable since 1991, at 5 to 7 million throughout most of the period.  For this group, however, the average duration of exile increases over time – largely because of the unresolved situation of Afghan refugees which pushes averages up. It is now well over 20 years.

This short analysis of UNHCR data shows that available refugee data can be used to clarify some important parts of the policy debate. It is important to ensure that this debate is informed by evidence, which can help provide a more nuanced perspective of a complex issue.

Djibouti: Where forced displacement and migration meet

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Also available in: Español
In the context of the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, this blog offers a field-level perspective from Djibouti on refugee and migrant movements. To prepare the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project, I visited the Ali Addeh refugee camp in Ali Sabieh region, which has been hosting predominantly Somali refugees for over two decades now, and Obock town, which is hosting Yemeni refugees in Merkazi refugee camp following the 2015 crisis, and Horn of Africa migrants in town.  
 
At Ali Addeh, we were confronted with two startling realities. The first was that consequent droughts had led to a depletion in the livestock ownership of local host pastoralist populations. This left them more vulnerable and impoverished than the refugees in the camps. A refugee woman, fetching fuel wood, emphasized that local host communities needed urgent development support and interventions.
The port of Obock, where the journey begins. (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)
The second reality was the near absence of the age group of 16-30 year olds, both boys/men and girls/women, in both the refugee camp and among host communities. Discussions revealed that this group saw limited economic opportunities in the local environment and had moved to the capital city pursuing low skilled informal jobs with low remuneration. When we tracked these youth, we found that many were stranded in "Balbala," a shanty town adjoining Djiboutiville, the capital city. Poor skills and lack of resources had left them more vulnerable than before. Some of course had made an onward journey to Obock to explore a journey to the Middle East and Europe.

A visit to Obock town in Djibouti brought to fore another stark reality but this time at the regional level of the Horn of Africa (HOA). In 2015 nearly 100,000 people – nationals from the different HOA countries and inhabitants of refugee camps in the region – had traversed the harsh Djiboutian terrain, where deaths by dehydration is common, to reach Obock. The town is considered the gateway to Middle Eastern countries with Yemen being the first and closest destination.

Consultations with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), local government staff, local community members and migrants themselves, revealed to us that despite the conflict in Yemen and the reverse movement of people into Djibouti, there wasn’t a significant drop in the number of youth attempting the onward journey. The only thing that had changed was the time it took for these migrants to leave the Djiboutian shores for Yemen – the increased cost of the boat ride across the Bab el Mandeb Strait linking the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula – had resulted in migrants working odd jobs in Obock to put together this additional money.

A visit to IOM’s Migration Response Center brought us face to face with a number of migrants. Some were undergoing medical treatment for injuries sustained and/or diseases contracted either during the journey to Djibouti, or
IOM Migration Response Center in Obock. (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)
while in Yemen and caught in the conflict. Over 3,300 African migrants have died since 2006, through unsuccessful efforts at crossing into Yemen across treacherous waters. Others were awaiting the processing of their papers to be sent back to countries and communities of their origin. There was essentially an assemblage of battered bodies and broken spirits.
 
For us, the situation brought into sharp focus the debate at the global, regional and national levels on delineating the causes and consequences of forced displacement versus voluntary and involuntary migration for the HOA. In Djibouti, there are various patterns of movement. Internal displacement of Djiboutians moving from rural to urban areas is attributed to droughts. Youth, both refugees and locals, are moving from underdeveloped regions of Djibouti to cities in search of better lives and economic opportunities. Movement of people especially youth from Djibouti and other HOA countries to the Middle East via Obock and Yemen is motivated by again, the search for a better life.

These movements within and through Djibouti, regardless of whether it is considered forced displacement as the result of conflict and persecution, or migration have more commonalities than differences in terms of costs – the hardships faced by those attempting these movements; the vulnerability to physical, sexual and psychological exploitation; trauma, disease and death; and shattered dreams and broken spirits. The commonalities also extend to solutions – investments in countries and regions to enhance opportunities for social and economic well-being for local communities, especially the youth, and efforts to enhance skills and competencies to enable safer and facilitated migration to mitigate the vulnerability.

The specific case of Djibouti, that is one among many others, therefore exemplifies the crossing of and even the merging of forced displacement and migration paths over time. The motivation for the refugees and migrants to move, and routes used are similar, with refugees from Ali Addeh becoming economic migrants by moving out of Djibouti, their first country of asylum.

These realities from the ground demand a pause and reflection on what sustainable and durable solutions can be proposed, as we work to strengthen collaboration between development partners, humanitarian agencies, country governments and regional organizations.

Experience from the Horn of Africa: Using area-based and inclusive planning to coordinate the humanitarian-development response to forced displacement

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture

In the previous blog, we wrote about some essential features of a development response to forced displacement, which is the first question that we confronted in preparing a project to support the Horn of Africa (HOA) region address the impacts of protracted refugee presence.

We are just starting work on this Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the HOA, informed by our understanding documented in the joint World Bank-UNHCR Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration report. As we move forward, we are gaining useful insights on coordinating the humanitarian-development response.
 
Among the countries of the HOA, which have been hosting refugees for a long time now, Ethiopia hosts the largest number of refugees. The refugees reside in 23 refugee camps located in the five National Regional States of Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Tigrai, and Ethiopian Somali in 16 Woredas and 15 kebeles. The environmental impact of the refugee presence, stemming from fuelwood and construction timber needs, extends across 117 kebeles.

Project preparation took us to the Sherkole refugee camp in Benishangul-Gumuz and the Asaiyta refugee camp in Afar National Regional States. Through interactions with local host communities, refugees, woreda and kebele officials, Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA -- Government of Ethiopia’s refugee agency), and UNHCR field staff and local NGOs, we learned, for example, that both host and refugee communities wanted accessible secondary and high school education for their children; had to travel long distances, as much as 60 kilometers, if they needed a surgical intervention; and spent more time each day traveling to meet their fuel wood needs due to receding tree cover.

Classroom in Nakivale, Uganda (Photo: UNHCR)

However, discussions also revealed that the planning processes for the multi-agency refugee response (often led by ARRA and UNHCR in Ethiopia) and the development planning led by national and local government entities were essentially two separate processes – the former focusing primarily on refugees, and the latter on host communities. Both were functioning under a budget and capacity constraint.

The reality was that refugee children in Asaiyta who did not have access to high school in the camp attended the high school run by the government, and refugee women sought medical care at the local government hospital when the primary health centre was ill-equipped to address the problem.

For Sherkole, UNCHR was planning to establish a high school which could potentially support both refugees and host communities, as the existing high school was oversubscribed. But the conversation had not happened yet on how best to complement an existing high school so that both host and refugee children would be able to save time currently spent on walking to school and avoid the discomfort of sitting in congested classrooms.  

These realities led us to better focus on value for money of investments – efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability – and a potential tool for planning which could bring the government and UNHCR as well as NGOs that operate in these areas to exchange information and coordinate better their existing, ongoing and planned investments in service delivery.

Our experience in the Horn of Africa shows that area-based and inclusive planning has the following elements that would increase efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability:

  • Both hosts and refugees are participants in the planning process and enabled to share their priorities, challenges and proposals;
  • Break the silos of planning and consider the needs of both host and refugee communities while planning an intervention irrespective of who was initiating the intervention;
  • Given that government would be the long-term custodian of the infrastructure and services, it was critical that all facilities created in an administrative area are recorded on government books and budgetary provisions made by local governments for operations and maintenance with contributions also coming in from the UNHCR;
  • Service delivery norms for basic social services are adhered to in terms of population served, irrespective of how many were local and refugees, in deciding the level of service provision (health clinic, primary health centre, or hospital) based on what was already available; and
  • Ensuring parity in qualification and remuneration of staff to ensure both UNCHR and government facilities are staffed and functional.

Some may argue that area based and inclusive planning is not new and offers an opportunity for intersectoral planning focused upon spatial or locational investment decisions, and that this is key to designing solutions to address problems and achieve functional integration between sectors. However, translating this concept into practice on the ground is the challenge, which all stakeholders are likely to face in the displacement context given their individual mandates and narrow beneficiary focus.

The DRDIP preparation process has however convinced us of the commitment of all concerned to stay focused on the beneficiaries and their needs, ensuring value for money through optimum utilization of limited capacities and resources. Some of the regions e.g. Afar and Ethiopian Somali where the project will be implemented already have experience in an area based planning approach that has been developed and implemented under the World Bank financed Pastoral Community Development Project (PCDP). What is different is the context and the prevalent practice. A very encouraging beginning indeed and a long journey ahead.
 

Forced displacement: What can the development community contribute to supporting displaced persons and host communities?

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Also available in: Español
Every day we are confronted with new images of people making a desperate bid to escape their living conditions and countries against treacherous and unforgiving odds. Globally, there is a number of situations that are contributing to this unprecedented movement of people, including:
  • Forced displacement due to war, conflict, and persecution;
  • Involuntary migration due to poverty, erosion of livelihoods, or climate change impacts that have destroyed and degraded life support systems; and/or even
  • Voluntary migration of indomitable spirits unable to reconcile with the status quo and seeking better social and economic opportunities.

To better understand forced displacement, I led a joint World Bank-UNHCR team that brought out the Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration Report for the Horn of Africa (HOA) – a region with an estimated 242 million inhabitants that includes eight countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda), which collectively host more than 9.5 million displaced persons, including more than 6.5 million internally displaced persons and approximately 3 million refugees.

Dealing with de-risking: a tale of tenacity and creativity

Emile van der Does de Willebois's picture

In 2014, money transfer operators sending funds to Somalia were coming under increasing pressure. Western financial institutions, concerned about money possibly ending up in the hands of terrorists or persons on sanctions lists, decided the risk was too high and started pulling out. Although one channel remained open, the situation was so acute that the World Bank and the Somalia Multi-Partner Fund decided to take action and create a fallback position in case that last channel, too, should close. A scenario in which the Somali diaspora had no legitimate way to send money home to their families would have been devastating to Somalis who depend on these funds for their basic needs.
 

How we’re fighting conflict and fragility where poverty is deepest

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture

View from cave, Mali. © Curt Carnemark/World Bank

For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030:
good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, creating jobs, and, finally, preventing and adapting to climate change.
 
By 2030, more than half of the world’s poorest people will live in very poor countries that are fragile, affected by conflict, or experience high levels of violence
 
These are places where governments cannot adequately provide even basic services and security, where economic activity is paralyzed and where development is the most difficult.  It is also where poverty is deepest. The problems these countries face don’t respect borders. About half of the world’s 20 million refugees are from poor countries. Many more are displaced within their own country.

#GenderMatters: From digital divides to digital dividends

Indhira Santos's picture
Eighty percent of the population in developing countries owns a mobile phone, but—according to the most recent report on the subject by the global association of mobile operators, GSMA—more than 1.7 billion women do not own one. Women are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, on average. Women in South Asia are 38 percent less likely to own a phone than men.
 

The future is in her hands

Bassam Sebti's picture


She is described as having strong ideas. A spirited and energetic girl who dreams of a big future, Shams helps children and encourages them to learn and play.

But Shams is not a real child. She is a Muppet and one of the most popular fictional characters in the children’s show Iftah Ya Simisim, the Arabic version of the popular, long-running US children’s show Sesame Street, which was introduced in the Arab world in the 1980s.

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Water & war: Life is tough in Somalia, but it is getting better all the time

Dawud Abdirahman's picture

Also available in: Français | العربية

Children in Somalia


​As I made my way to the mosque, I started to think about how violence has defined my country.  Most intractable conflicts have been caused by a lack of basic resources: water, food, fertile land. Somalia is no different.
 
We have a large nomadic population, and climate is a life system for many. Severe droughts interrupted by devastating floods occur frequently. Water can be as precious as gold and praying for rain is not uncommon.
 
Sharing water can create solidarity and unity, but it can also cause bloodshed. It is one of the oldest causes of conflict; often a small clash between two people over water can erupt into years of bloody violence between clans or communities. People mobilise their clan to get the resources necessary for survival; particularly when wells and rivers run dry.


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