Misanet.com / IRIN, 22 August - A move by humanitarian agencies to help severely malnourished children in resettlement camps in Hargeysa, in the self-declared state of Somaliland, northwestern Somalia, will depend on how quickly resources can be mobilised, a UNHCR representative told IRIN today.
A recent nutrition survey had found a "worrying" 15 percent malnutrition rate among returnees who have come from refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia.
Kulunga Lutato, the representative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR for Somalia, told IRIN that he had spoken to the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Randolph Kent, on Wednesday. "A humanitarian response is being formulated... how soon depends on how quickly we can mobilise resources," Lutato said.
The nutritional survey had predicted a bleak outlook for children already malnourished and lacking any special care among some 30,000 people living in poor conditions in temporary camps. "Many of these children are, in fact, likely to die," said the August Nutrition Update by the USAID-funded and FAO-implemented Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU).
The survey was carried out by UNICEF, FSAU and the Somaliland health ministry. Preliminary results had indicated a global acute malnutrition rate of 15 percent, after a total of 901 children were surveyed using a 30-by-30 two-stage cluster-sampling methodology in seven resettlement camps in June.
A spokesman for the UN Coordination Unit, Andre Le Sage, said that the nutritional survey had been initiated because "the UN is aware of the harsh economic conditions faced by returning refugees and the urban poor".
He said the results of the survey would be used to "improve our interventions and help refugees reintegrate".
Over the last two years, temporary camps and structures have mushroomed among destroyed and abandoned buildings on the outskirts of the town. "Urban poverty is now an enormous problem here," a Somaliland humanitarian worker told IRIN.
Humanitarian sources in Hargeysa said people living in the camps had "come from a variety of circumstances, and a variety of places". Some were spontaneous returnees from Ethiopia who had been living in poor, makeshift accommodation for years, while others had returned through formal, assisted repatriation programmes by UNHCR.
There are also small groups of displaced people from southern Somalia - who are known as "refugees" by the Somaliland authorities, but considered "displaced" by international humanitarian agencies. "These are the 'invisibles'," a local source said of the southerners.
Lutato confirmed there had been spontaneous repatriation of refugees from the Ethiopian camps over a number of years, but stressed this was different from the organised UNHCR-assisted repatriations.
Formal repatriations were organised with supplies, which included at least nine months of food rations, he said. Now, there was particular concern that the economy of Somaliland had been severely affected by repeated livestock bans, and that whatever support, social services or employment anticipated by returnees had been affected adversely by the economic downturn.
Humanitarian sources told IRIN that most returnees had congregated in the Somaliland capital rather than returning to their original home areas. Various reasons had been suggested for the phenomenon, including loss of livestock and homes, the need for cash-based employment, dislocation and habitual dependency, the source said.
Since 1991, when Somaliland declared unilateral independence, a number of the refugees "commuted" between the camps and Somaliland before deciding to return permanently with their families. In July this year, the refugee camps were finally closed down.
They had been originally established in 1988 when a huge exodus of the Somaliland population fled into neighbouring Ethiopia after the bombing of Hargeysa, and civil war began in earnest.
"We need to find out exactly why people got into this situation... Going from one camp as a refugee to live in another as a returnee is obviously unacceptable," one humanitarian source said.