UN refugee agency urges Saudis to stop Somali deportations

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The UN refugee agency on Friday urged Saudi Arabia to stop sending Somali refugees and asylum seekers back to the war-ravaged Somali capital, Mogadishu.

"UNHCR is deeply troubled by the reports of continuing deportations of Somali refugees and asylum seekers from Saudi Arabia to the conflict-stricken Somali capital," said agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

"UNHCR is urging the Saudi authorities to refrain from future deportations on humanitarian grounds," she added.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Somalis had been flown back to Mogadishu for the past year despite the conflict that is still forcing people to flee their homes in and around the capital.

"According to our local partners in Mogadishu, some 1,000 Somalis were deported from Saudi Arabia in June alone. For July the total so far is estimated to be close to 1,000," Fleming told journalists.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in Mogadishu this week in a renewed surge in fierce fighting between government forces and Shebab militia, according to the agency.

About 300,000 of Somalia's estimated 1.4 million internally displaced people are sheltering in Mogadishu, while the rest are in makeshift sites in the south and centre of the country.

The UNHCR said earlier this month that many of the 200,000 who fled their homes this year were trapped in the country as routes out became increasingly dangerous.

Saudi Arabia has not signed up to the international refugee convention but UNHCR said all countries should extend some form of international protection to fleeing Somalis because they could not go home safely.

The agency is discussing joint screening of Somali refugees with Saudi authorities.

About half a million Somalis have sought refuge abroad, mainly fleeing in neighbouring east African countries and across the sea to Yemen.

© 2010 AFP

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