Update to the UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Somalia

Trends in applications and decisions on asylum seekers from Somalia

Asylum applications

Total applications from Somali asylum seekers increased from 7,800 in 1976 to 8,300 in 1997, or 7%. The peak was reached in 1992, with of 14,600 applications.

In 1997, the United Kingdom received the largest share (34%) of all applications (this figure would be larger still were persons, not cases, being reported). Since 1996, the United Kingdom has been the largest recipient of Somali asylum seekers. Before that (1992-1995), the Netherlands received the largest number.

Total 1997 Somali applications (8,300) constituted 3% of the total 1997 applications (269,000).

1951 UN Convention status recognitions

Approximately 500 Somali asylum-seekers were granted 1951 UN Convention refugee status during 1997, up from 140 during 1996, but still significantly lower than the 2,100 in 1992.

In 1997, the United Kingdom granted refugee status to some 270 Somali asylum-seekers, or 56% of all Somalis granted refugee status in 1997. Poland followed, granting refugee status to 80 Somalis, or 17%.

Total 1997 Somali recognitions (500) constituted 2% of total 1997 recognitions in Europe (28,500).


In 1997, the number of rejected Somali asylum applications in Europe (3,700) almost equalled the number of 1996 (3,600).

In 1997, the Netherlands accounted for almost half (47%) of the total number of rejected Somali asylum applications.

Humanitarian status

In 1997, the number of Somali asylum-seekers granted humanitarian status recognition (4,300) decreased by almost one-fourth from 1996 (5,600). This decline was triggered mostly by the United Kingdom, where the number of Somalis granted humanitarian status (cases only) fell from 3,600 to less than 1,000.

In 1997, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom each accounted for about 25% of the Somali humanitarian status recognitions.

Total 1997 humanitarian status recognitions of Somali asylum-seekers (4,300) constituted 11% of total 1997 humanitarian status recognitions in Europe (40,200).

Recognition rates

In 1997 the UN Convention recognition rate for Somali refugees was about six per cent (6%), an increase from 2% in 1996, but only half the European average of 12% for all nationalities. The rate was highest in Belgium (56%) and Poland (62%). In the United Kingdom, which received the largest number of Somali asylum-seekers in 1997, the rate was more than twice (16% - cases only), the European average (6%).

The total recognition rate (including both Convention and humanitarian status recognitions) for Somalis was almost 60%. In other words, of all positive and negative decisions taken on Somali asylum applications in Europe during 1997, six out of ten ended in either Convention or humanitarian status. The 1997 rate was close to the 1996 rate (62%), but double the European average for all nationalities (28%).

General Situation in Somalia

Almost three years after the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeeping operation, UNOSOM II, the Republic of Somalia is still described as a "collapsed" state, with hardly any activity devoted to the reconstruction or rebuilding of state institutions or public services (Amnesty International, July 1997). Despite the new relative peace in many parts of the country, several regions are said to be still subject to frequent flare-ups of faction fighting (Ibid.). The latest round of peace negotiations, brokered by the Government of Egypt in Cairo during November-December 1997, appears to provide new hopes for an end to the conflict. The Cairo negotiations differed from previous efforts in that they included the self-declared president of Somalia, Hussein Mohamed Aidid, leader of the Haber Gedir/Hawyie United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance coalition (USC/SNA), who had refused to take part in the national reconciliation process set out in January 1997 at the Sodere (Ethiopia) peace negotiations (United Nations, Security Council, S/1997/715, 16 September 1997). Mr. Aidid's reservations about Sodere had centered on issues of membership credentials and foreign intervention, especially by Ethiopia (Ibid.).In the resulting document, called the Cairo Declaration on Somalia, participants pledged to set aside their differences and to "embark on a new path towards national unity and re-establishment of the basic rights, aspirations and freedoms of the Somali people" (United Nations, Security Council, S/1997/1000, 22 December 1997). Acknowledging previous peace efforts made in Nairobi (October 1996), Sodere (January 1997), Sanaa (May 1997), Cairo (May 1997) and the separate Cairo Understanding of 21 December 1997, the Cairo Declaration calls for the formation of a transitional government based on a system of federal governance and "bound by the rules of international law and the objectives and principles of the United Nations and all other international organizations in which Somalia is a member" (Ibid.).

To this end, the signatories agreed to convene a National Reconciliation Conference in Baidoa (capital of the Bay state of Somalia) on 15 February 1998, to be constituted of 465 delegates from all segments of Somali society, taking into account community balance (Ibid.). The Conference agenda includes, inter alia, the election of 13 members for a Presidential Council of a National Transitional Government, with three members for each of the four major social groups and one member for each of the remaining social groups of Somalia (Ibid.). The President is to be selected from the Hawiye clan, the Prime Minister from the Darod, and the President of Parliament from the Ranhanwein (Afrique Express, 2 janvier 1998). The Transitional Government is to last five years, leading to national elections (Reuters, 6 January 1998).

The Cairo Declaration on Somalia was signed by 28 representatives of factions and alliances, including the two major warlords, Ali Mahdi Mohamed on behalf of the National Salvation Council (NSC), a coalition of 26 factions, and by Hussein Mohamed Aidid on behalf of the United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance (USC/SNA) (UN Security Council, S/1997/1000, 22 December 1997; Afrique Express, 2 janvier 1998). While Mr. Aidid's participation at the Cairo meetings was seen as crucial to the success of the negotiations, the Issaq of Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991, continued to refuse to participate in a process of national reconciliation in Somalia, and two Darod leaders who had been strong supporters of the Sodere Accord have distanced themselves from it, namely Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed of the Majerteen Somali Salvation Front (SSDF), and general Adan Abdullah Nur (a.k.a. "Gabyo") of the Ogaden Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) (The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 3 January 1998). They demanded that the reconciliation conference be held in the Northeastern city of Bossaso, as agreed at Sodere, and that it should include more Darod delegates (Africa Confidential, 9 January 1998). Other critics, including factions representing Somali Bantus and other minorities, claim that, unlike the Sodere Accord, which was founded on an equilibrium of representation between the four largest clans (Darod, Hawiye, Rahaweyn and Dir), the Cairo Declaration on Somalia appears to give the best share to the Hawiye, the clans of Ali Mahdi Mohamed (Abgal/Hawiye) and Hussein Mohamed Aidid (Habr Gedir/Hawiye) (The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 3 January 1998).It is not possible at this time to speculate whether remaining differences will be resolved and the National Reconciliation Conference will indeed take place. What appears to hold for the moment is the statement made by the UN Secretary-General in his September 1997 report to the Security Council:

Somalia remains susceptible to three types of emergency situations requiring immediate international response: natural disasters, such as floods, droughts and pestilence; epidemics, particularly of cholera and also those affecting livestock; and man-made disasters, typically war-related casualties, population displacements and famine (S/1997/715, 16 September 1997).

The Secretary-General further reported that 13 UN agencies, in collaboration with 50 international and 10 national non-governmental organizations, provide emergency humanitarian relief assistance, focusing on the four priority areas of emergency, rehabilitation, reconstruction and governance assistance requirements (Ibid.).

Different conditions prevail in different parts of the country, which is divided into four major zones: the North-west, or Somaliland, which is conducting an experiment in democracy combined with centuries-old cultural traditions; the Majerteen North-east, which has lived in near total peace since the end of the war against former dictator Siad Barre in January 1991; to its south, the Central region from Galkayo to Belet Weyn, populated by Marehans and numerous Hawiye sub-clans, with its own share of troubles, and which serves as a passageway, especially at the commercial level, between the peaceful North-east and the war-torn South. It is in the South, from the area around Mogadiscio to the border with Kenya, that the civil war has been waged for over six years (Prunier, G., Le Monde Diplomatique, Octobre 1997).

The North-West (Somaliland)

In her report on the human rights situation in Somalia, the Independent Expert of the United Nations Commission of Human Rights, Ms. Mona Rishmawi, noted Somaliland's efforts at institution building and at establishing some elements of governance (E/CN.4/1997/88, 3 March 1997). She cited as examples the process of "reorganizing the administration and establishing a constitution describing the powers and responsibilities of the newly created legislative, executive and judicial organs of government" (Ibid.). She added, however, that while the installment of a local government and local administrations had improved the region's ability to recover from the effects of civil war, new challenges and problems had arisen and "the people's desire to see the establishment of a democratic government and of a publicly accountable administration remains unsatisfied" (Ibid.).On 16 December 1997, the president of Somaliland, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, notified parliament (Guurti) of his decision to step down from the post he has held since 1993 and to which he was reelected in March 1997, and outlined the constitutional channels for his succession (The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 20 December 1997). The move was labeled as "political blackmail" by Mr. Egal, as it is believed that the opposition could not agree on one single candidate and instead "fears the political storms that could break around the empty presidential chair" (Ibid.). Mr. Egal is said to be under growing criticism, especially over the issue of corruption, and he realizes his limitations in a society that is "increasingly rebuilding its bridges and where public opinion has a growing role" (Ibid.). As explained by a member of the opposition, the country's institutions are too young and fragile to withstand the shock of a coup d'état or an insurrection, and many electoral meetings will be held in the four years until the next elections (Prunier, G., Octobre 1997). Mr. Egal's resignation was rejected by parliament nearly unanimously (Africa Confidential, 9 January 1998).

Somaliland also continued its efforts to gain international recognition: in March 1997, President Egal reportedly demanded recognition of the "Republic of Somaliland" by the United Nations and its agencies, and the appointment of a UN Resident Representative in Hargeysa (Africa South of the Sahara 1998, 930). In November 1997, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Salah Fagadeh Nour, travelled to Ethiopia and obtained an agreement from the Government of Ethiopia to deal directly with the Government of Somaliland and not with the clans or clan fractions. Mr. Nour also visited the United States and France and met with representatives of both governments, as well as with officials of the French oil company, Total, the latter aimed of reviving a network of service stations in Somaliland (The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 13 December 1997).

The Northeast

The Majerteen area of Somalia is said to be the only region that has not suffered from the civil war, and is considered to be safe in comparison to other parts of the country (Piguet, F., OSAR-Jalons No. 47, décembre 1997, 29). There are, however, cases of banditry such as intimidations and car thefts (Ibid.). The Galcayo region, inhabited by Majerteen and Hawiye/Habr Gedir, has had sporadic incidents of violence (Ibid.). Nevertheless, the slow reconstruction of state institutions at the regional level and the absence of a coherent legal system render the region vulnerable to militias of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), who are themselves prone to extort money through violent means (Ibid.)

Central and Southern Somalia

Sporadic clashes between rival militias continued throughout 1997 in the regions of Baidoa, Shabelle and Bay, causing the displacement of nearly 27,000 people (Agence France Presse, 3 November 1997). In March 1997, factional fighting broke out in the village of Began, in the Galgudud region, between Abgal clan suporters of Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Murusade supporters of Mohamed Qanyare Afraf, an ally of the Haber Gedir/Hawiye Hussein Mohamed Aidid (Agence France Presse, March 1997 [Lexis/Nexis]).

In October 1997 a truce was reportedly signed between Ali Mahdi Mohamed's SSA and Hussein Mohamed Aidid's USC/SNA. The agreement called for the cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, the removal of roadblocks and the facilitation of humanitarian aid (Africa Confidential, 18 October 1997). The agreement, which was described as non-political, also called for the enforcement of Islamic Sharia law to combat the increasing banditry (Ibid.). In early November machinegun fire was reportedly exchanged between Abgar militias of Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Hawadle followers of Col. Omar Hashi Aden in the region of Mahaday, 117 km north of Mogadishu, resulting in the deaths of four militias and two civilians (Agence France Presse, 3 November 1997). At the end of November 1997, members of international humanitarian organizations were evacuated from North Mogadishu due to the worsening security situation (24 November 1997; 26 November 1997). The Spanish section of Médecins sans Frontières, the French organization Action contre la faim and the Italian organizations CEFA, Intersos and CINS announced the withdrawal of their staff from Mogadishu after two members of CINS had been kidnapped briefly during an attack to their offices in Daganley, 28 km north of Mogadishu (Ibid.). At least 13 Somalis, some of them employed by CINS, were killed during these attacks (Ibid.).

Other parts of the region were affected by floods brought on by heavy rains that started in October 1997 and caused the Juba and Shebelle rivers to overflow, destroying more than 60,000 hectares of crops and farmland and washing away thousands of tons of sorghum and other foods stored underground (Associated Press, November 1997 [Internet]. At the end of November, at least 2,000 Somalis were believed to have drowned in the floods (Time, 1 December 1997). The floods also forced another 122,000 mostly Somali refugees to flee their camps in northeastern Kenya (Associated Press, November 1997 [Internet]). Relief efforts were endangered by renewed clan fighting in Baidoa, in the heart of the flooded area, 200 km northwest of Mogadishu (The Toronto Star, 21 November 1997; Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 19 November 1997).

The heavy presence of Ethiopian troops in the region forced UN organizations such as the World Food Programme and Unicef to withhold relief efforts to flood victims, leaving the task to the International Red Cross organization (The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 20 December 1997; Agence France Presse, 3 November 1997). At present, while flooding remains a serious problem in lower Juba and Shebelle areas (Reuters, 8 January 1998), receding flood waters in the Bordera and Belet Weyne regions are giving rise to water-borne diseases such as cholera, with confirmed cases in Mogadishu, Asgoi, Marca and Kismayo (Ibid.).

Human Rights Situation

Information on the current human rights situation in Somalia is scarce. In July 1997, Amnesty International, stated that the lack of a recognized or a central government is a major problem for human rights in Somalia, as some people believe that "[their] protection will not be established until there is peace and at least a transitional government" (Ibid.). It added that the current pattern of abuses is "extremely serious" and lists the major human rights concerns as being:

·         deliberate and arbitrary killings by faction militias, often of unarmed civilians including women and children, and deliberately targeted killings of clan opponents

·         arbitrary detentions without charge or trial or any due legal process of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners

·         unfair trials of political prisoners

·         hostage-taking

·         torture and ill-treatment of prisoners

·         rape of women and girl-children

·         cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments of amputation and flogging

·         the death penalty -- generally imposed and carried out without fair trial (Ibid.)

However, Amnesty International goes on to distinguish the types of abuses committed in each region of Somalia. In the "Crisis" zones (the divided city of Mogadishu, the port of Kismayu and the regions of Bay, Bakol, Lower and Middle Juba, and Lower Shebelle), it cites as abuses "all basic rights, unlawful killing of civilians, political assassinations, kidnappings and abductions, violence against women and children, sexual harassment, oppression of minorities, looting and stealing of property" (Ibid.). The "Transition" zones (the regions of Galgadud, Hiran, Gedo, Mudug, Middle Shebelle, Togder, Sool and Sanag), are reportedly affected by "violations of peace agreements, lackof law and order, lack of governance, poverty and unemployment, uncontrollable militias" (Ibid). Finally, in the "Recovery" zones (the regions of Bari, Nugal, Awdal and Woqooyi Galbeed), said to have problems of "poor local administration, few public services, limited resources and few employment opportunities, weak police and judiciary" (Ibid.).

On the other hand, the Independent Expert of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ms. Mona Rishmawi, concluded in her March 1997 report that "the human rights dimension of the conflict in Somalia is ignored and even sometimes undermined ... [and that] ... this dimension is particularly essential as various practical programmes to aid Somalia are being developed" (E/CN.4/1997/88, 3 March 1997). Ms. Rishmawi called for greater scrutiny and examination of the human rights situation in that country (Ibid.).


Africa Confidential,

"Somalia: Cairo's round", 9 January 1998


"Somalia: Hussein is not Aydeed - A peace deal of sorts has been struck as some of the old grudges are buried", 18 October 1997

Africa South of the Sahara 1998,

Regional Surveys of the World. London: Europa Publications, 1997

Afrique Express,

"Somalie: les factions signent un accord mettant fin à la guerre civile", 2 janvier 1998

Agence France Presse,

"Somalia-violence", 26 November 1997 [Lexis/Nexis]


"Gunmen attack aid compound in Somalia, killing three", 24 November 1997 [Lexis/Nexis]


"Red Cross helps 27,000 displaced by Somalia fighting", 3 November 1997 [Lexis/Nexis]


"Six morts dans des combats au nord de Mogadiscio", 3 Novembre 1997 [Internet]


"Faction leaders bolster their militia in central Somalia", March 1997 [Lexis/Nexis]

Amnesty International,

"Somalia - Putting hunan rights on the agenda: a human rights training workshop", July 1997

Associated Press,

"Hundreds rescued from the rising flood waters in Somalia", November 1997

Deutsche Presse-Agentur,

"Somalia aid distribution made harder by problems of clan violence", 19 November 1997

The Indian Ocean Newsletter,

"Somalia" no unanimity in Cairo deal", 3 January 1998


"Somaliland: Egal resigns?", 20 December 1997


"Somalia: Ethiopian policeman", 20 December 1997


"Useful diplo trip", 13 December 1997

Piguet, François,

"Somalie: Les conditions d'un retour éventuel de requérants d'asile originaires du nord-est de la Somalie (Madjertein)". OSAR-Jalons No. 47, décembre 1997

Prunier, Gérard,

"Somaliland, le pays qui n'existe pas", Le Monde Diplomatique, Octobre 1997


"Cholera strikes as Somali floods recede", 8 January 1998


"Somali faction leaders agree to meet on January 15", 6 January1998


"Orphans in the storm", 1 December 1997

The Toronto Star,

"Fighting threatens Somalia flood relief", 21 November 1997 [Lexis/Nexis]

United Nations,

Commission on Human Rights, Report on the situation of human rights in Somalia, prepared by the Independent Expert of the Commission on Human Rights, Ms. Mona Rishmawi, pursuant to Commission resolution 1996/57 of 19 April 1996, E/CN.4/1997/88, 3 March 1997

United Nations,

Security Council, Letter dated 22 December 1997 from the permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/1997/1000, 22 December 1997.

United Nations,

Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Somalia, S/1997/715, 16 September 1997



Page No.

Explanatory Notes


All Nationalities:


Asylum applications


1951 Convention status recognitions




Grants of humanitarian status recognition


Total 1951 UN Convention recognition rates




Asylum applications


1951 Convention status recognitions




Grants of humanitarian status recognition


Total 1951 UN Convention recognition rates


Explanatory Notes


1.         The statistics provided herewith are based on Government reports to UNHCR. While every attempt has been made to include accurate and verified statistics, it is still possible that some of the data reported may change at a later stage due to updates, corrections and the like. In that sense, the data reported should be considered as indicative.

2.         The statistics refer as much as possible to persons, not cases (i.e., including dependants) as well as to decisions made in first instance only (i.e., excluding appeal).

3.         In the United Kingdom, the 1990-1996 statistics on "All nationalities" refer to persons, whereas the statistics by country of origin refer to cases. The 1997 statistics on "All nationalities" also refer to cases.

4.         Humanitarian status in the Netherlands and Norway include temporary protected status granted on an individual basis.

5.         In the tables, a dash ("-") means that the value is zero, rounded to zero, not applicable, or not available.

6.         The 1951 UN Convention recognition rates have been calculated as follows:

Number granted 1951 UN Convention status

Number granted 1951 UN Convention status + number granted humanitarian status + rejections x 100%

7.         The total recognition rates have been calculated as follows:

Number granted 1951 UN Convention status + number granted humanitarian status

Number granted 1951 UN Convention status + number granted humanitarian status + rejections x 100%

The 1997 data

1.         The statistics for the year 1997 have been extrapolated for the following countries (the number of months for which data were available is indicated in parentheses): Czech Republic (10 months), Denmark (11), Finland (11), France (11), Greece (9), Italy (9), Norway (6), Poland (10), Spain (11), Sweden (6), United Kingdom (9).

2.         As not all countries have reported the statistics for 1997, in particular France and the Netherlands (in part), the percentage distributions for 1997 are of limited use.

3.         The 1997 applications in Germany refer to new applications only.

4.         The 1997 statistics for Hungary refer to non-European nationals only.

5.         For Sweden, the 1997 number of 1951 UN Convention recognitions is included in the humanitarian status recognitions.

6.         The 1997 United Kingdom statistics on "All nationalities" refer to cases (excluding dependants).

This information paper was prepared in the Country Research and Analysis Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, in collaboration with Regional Bureau Responsible for Somalia and the UNHCR Statistical Unit. All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.