Submitted January 7, 2002.
U.S., other donors shun Somaliland, says NGO
By Carl Bialik
New York -- While the U.S. studies its military options in Somalia carefully, it ignores a region of the war-torn country where a fragile young government strains to absorb an influx of refugees, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR).
The region, Somaliland, declared independence from the rest of Somalia after the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991 but has failed to receive international diplomatic recognition. As a result, the U.S. and other international donors have neglected to provide developmental aid to the area, even as it continues to absorb tens of thousands of refugees repatriating from eastern Ethiopia’s refugee camps.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has assisted the repatriation of refugees in the region since 1997, but the USCR report pointed to budget cuts in what it called UNHCR’s “already under-funded and understaffed refugee program in Somaliland.” Those budget cuts will lead UNHCR to close its Somaliland operations at the end of 2002.
According to USCR, a U.S.-based NGO, the refugees are returning to Somaliland, in northwest Somalia, because of the relative peace the region offers compared to the rest of Somalia. Somaliland has enjoyed five years of uninterrupted peace, and in May 2001, 97 percent of voters approved a new constitution for the region.
However, the semi-arid desert area remains extremely impoverished, as most residents live in makeshift camps and have inadequate water systems, health care, education, employment opportunities, and social services. Hence the title of the 34-page report, “Welcome home to nothing.”
Joel Frushone, USCR Africa policy analyst and author of the report urges the U.S. and others in the international community to see Somaliland as an opportunity to create an oasis of stability in the Horn of Africa and to diminish the chance of future acts of international terrorism.
“If we do not collectively act soon, what we have done is in danger of collapsing,” a UN official told Frushone.Copyright © 2002 Carl Bialik
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