Somaliland leaves Somalis in limbo

Breakaway state's disputed independence leaves Somali refugees ineligible for aid.

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    Those arriving in Hargeysa, fleeing war in
    southern Somalia, live in makeshift camps

    Somaliland's disputed independence has left hundreds of Somalis ineligible for UN aid and unrecognised by Somaliland's government.

    Hundreds of Somalis fled recent fighting in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, taking shelter in the relative safety of Somaliland.

    According to the UN, fighting in Mogadishu has displaced about 400,000 people.

    An estimated 40,000 of those have fled to Hargeysa, Somaliland's capital, with thousands of others scattered in other settlements throughout the territory.

    Fatuma Abdullahi, one if the refugees, told Al Jazeera: "I fled from the Bakaara area of Mogadishu during the heaviest fighting in April. It took me 16 days to reach Hargeysa. I am here with some of my family members while others are still in Mogadishu."

    "There is no going back for me. I am here to stay," she said.

    Breakaway republic

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    In Hargeysa, many Somalis gather to be registered, but they have encountered a problem: in Somaliland, the UN does not regard them as refugees and the Somaliland government will not recognise them as internally displaced people.

    In May 1991, Somaliland declared itself an independent state, but its independence was never recognised internationally and the breakaway republic continues to exist inside the borders of Somalia.

    The Somaliland government wants those fleeing from Mogadishu recognised as refugees who have crossed international borders, but UN agencies and other aid organisations say the Somalis are people displaced within their own country.

    UN organisations say, identifying them as refugees would be tantamount to recognising Somaliland as an independent state.

    As a result, the lives of those fleeing Somalia are in limbo, with UN officials saying they can do very little to help.

    Fidelis Swai, the head of UNHCR in Somaliland, said: "Unfortunately, our help is limited in terms of resources. The lasting solution for these people is for them to go back to the place that they came from or for the government here to give them land to start their homes again."

    Those arriving in Hargeysa, fleeing drought, famine and war in southern Somalia, live in makeshift camps - the Somaliland government does not want any permanent structures to be built for them.

    They face isolation, caught in a political dispute many of them care nothing about.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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