Nearly 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia lived in about two dozen countries at the end of 2003, including more than 140,000 in Kenya, nearly 70,000 in Yemen, nearly 22,000 in Djibouti, about 10,000 in Ethiopia, some 7,000 in South Africa, about 3,000 in Egypt, more than 3,000 in Tanzania, some 3,000 in Libya, more than 3,000 in Eritrea, about 1,000 in Uganda, and more than 15,000 Somali asylum seekers in various European countries and the United States.

Some 350,000 Somalis were internally displaced at year's end.

An estimated 10,000 Somali refugees repatriated during the year, primarily to northern Somalia.

Pre-2003 Events

Civil war and factional fighting have besieged Somalia for more than a decade, causing more than 500,000 deaths. Conditions were particularly severe during 1991 – 92, when war and massive population upheaval produced famine and left 2 million Somalis internally displaced and 800,000 as refugees. Large numbers gradually returned to their home areas during 1992 – 98 amid continued violence and population upheavals. Political leaders in northern Somalia maintained autonomy from the rest of the country.

Leaders in the northwest, largely of the Issaq clan, continued to rule their territory of "Somaliland," formed in 1991. Leaders in the northeast, dominated by the Darod clan, maintained control of their territory of "Puntland," formed in 1998. While no foreign government officially recognized either autonomous region, as in previous years both regions pursued modest reconstruction efforts and population reintegration. In 2000, a fragile new national government formed in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, for the first time in a decade. The new governing body, known as the Transitional National Government (TNG), immediately encountered armed opposition from local warlords, some of whom continued to control large parts of Mogadishu, as well as significant territory outside the capital. (See World Refugee Survey 2003 Somalia country report,, for more background.)

Violence in 2003

Violence continued to afflict much of Somalia during 2003. The TNG struggled to control small areas of Mogadishu, exert its authority outside of the capital, and fend off attacks by armed factions. Anarchy reigned in most of the rest of southern and central Somalia. Somaliland conducted presidential elections without violence in April and remained relatively peaceful during the year. Peace negotiations sponsored by the Intern-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) aimed to end the violence that has plagued Somalia for 12 years produced no resolution by year's end. Despite a ceasefire signed between the TNG and several warring factions in late 2002, clan-related attacks and factional rivalries produced hundreds of civilian fatalities and casualties during 2003. In July, inter-clan clashes in central Somalia's Mudug Region killed more than 40 persons and wounded nearly 100 others. Heavy fighting between rival clans in Galgadud Region, central Somalia, left at least 50 dead and more than 150 wounded in November.

Assailants continued to brazenly attack humanitarian agencies. In October, Dr. Annalena Tonelli, who received the 2003 Nansen Refugee Reward from UNHCR in April, was killed on the grounds of the hospital she founded in Borama, western Somaliland. Also in October, a British couple was murdered at a secondary school in the town of Sheik, central Somaliland, where they worked as teachers. As in previous years, assailants kidnapped several relief workers before releasing them unharmed. The UN suspended its operations in April after the kidnapping of an employee of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Uprooted Somalis

Intensified factional conflict displaced thousands of people during 2003 and curbed hopes for widespread reintegration. An estimated 350,000 Somalis remained internally displaced at year's end. The precise number of newly displaced Somalis remained uncertain because poor security hampered thorough assessments in most regions of Somalia. About 150,000 displaced persons continued to live in some 200 Mogadishu-area camps and squatter settlements at year's end. An estimated 70,000 lived in settlements in Somaliland and Puntland. In July, two separate fires in a camp for internally displaced people in Bossaso, the capital of Puntland, killed five people and destroyed the homes and personal belongings of more than 1,000 families. Battles between rival factions of the prominent Rahanweyn Resistance Army for the control of the town of Baidoa, the capital of Bay Region, uprooted at least 3,000 people and left dozens dead and wounded during the year. Fleeing political violence in Puntland, more than 100 Somalis died at sea during the year when their boats capsized in the Gulf of Aden.

Repatriation of Somali Refugees

An estimated 10,000 Somali refugees repatriated during 2003, primarily from neighboring Ethiopia. Most refugees repatriated with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa. The UN estimates that during the past decade some 1million Somalis have returned home, including more than 450,000 with UNHCR assistance. During 2003, more than 9,000 Somali refugees returned overland to Somaliland on UNHCR convoys from Ethiopia, where most had lived in exile for more than a decade. Some 700 repatriated from Kenya to Puntland on UNHCR-chartered planes. An additional 250 returned home overland to Somaliland in UNHCR convoys from Djibouti. As in previous years, economic prospects for returnees to Somaliland were bleak and social services inadequate. More than 60 percent of returnees in northern Somalia survived on one meal per day and had no health care during 2003, according to UNHCR. Most returnees received a nine-month food supply from the World Food Programme (WFP). UNHCR provided water containers, basic kitchen essentials, blankets, plastic sheeting, and small cash transportation allowances to help returnees reach their homes from border transit centers. UNHCR estimated that some 15,000 Somalis willing to return home during 2003 had to remain in refugee camps in Djibouti because of lack of funding for repatriation programs. More than 1,500 Somali refugees registered to repatriate with UNHCR assistance decided to remain in Kenya during 2003, citing "difficult economic conditions" in Somaliland.

Humanitarian Conditions

Widespread political violence and human rights violations hampered deliveries of much needed assistance throughout Somalia during 2003. "Somalia remained a largely dangerous, unstable, and non-permissive environment for aid agencies and beneficiaries during 2003," the UN reported in November. Poor security continued to limit economic recovery in most of Somalia. In Buale District, Lower Juba Region, poor security caused by inter-clan fighting drove up the price of locally produced cereals and imported foods by 50 percent. Nearly 3 million Somalis, or nearly 45 percent of the population, lived on less than $1 a day. More than 60 percent of urban Somalis between the age of 15 and 65 remained unemployed at year's end. Despite improved rainfall in areas of southern and central Somalia in early 2003, increased violence in mid-year prevented farmers from harvesting crops and severely limited international humanitarian access to hundreds of thousands of Somalis in need of emergency assistance during the last six months of the year. Insufficient rainfall in central Somaliland's Togdheer Region caused food shortages for some 10,000 households and weakened livestock herds. Somalia's nationwide child malnutrition rate of 17 percent remained one of the highest in the world. Poor security continued to contribute to malnutrition among displaced persons in and around Mogadishu. In December, acute malnutrition rates among internally displaced children who visited health facilities in Benadir Region, outside Mogadishu, reached 30 percent. The UN appealed to donor nations for $71 million to support operations in Somalia during 2003. Donors had provided less than 50 percent as of October. Donor nations had failed to provide UNICEF with 60 percent of the funds needed for health, education, and water programs for women, children, and repatriated refugees.


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