by Njoroge Kaburo
NAIROBI, March 24 (Xinhua) -- A group of non-government organizations (NGOs) on Friday called on African leaders to find practical solutions to protect and assist Somali refugees and asylum seekers facing ongoing conflict and a humanitarian crisis in Somalia.
In a joint statement issued on the eve of the regional summit on refugees, members of the Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat (ReDSS), Somalia NGO Consortium and the Inter-agency Working Group (IAWG) expressed hope that the leaders will take practical steps towards the development and implementation of a comprehensive regional approach.
"It is hoped that such an approach, developed in the spirit of the New York Declaration, will support countries and communities that host Somali refugees in improving asylum space, integrated access to services, inclusive economic opportunities and infrastructure for all," the organizations said.
Kenya will on Saturday host an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit that will bring together Eastern African heads of state to discuss the situation of Somali refugees in the region.
Kenya's role as a refugee host has been marred by its continued insistence on closing Dadaab refugee camp, host to over 300,000 Somali refugees, by May.
The vast majority of Somali refugees have been hosted in neighboring countries for decades.
"It is critical to support host countries to include displacement in their National Development Plans to complement humanitarian interventions, addressing displacement-affected communities' needs and contributing to a comprehensive effort," the NGOs said.
"This Summit provides a unique opportunity to call on the international community to demonstrate solidarity with IGAD member states through responsibility sharing and increased resettlement quotas for Somali refugees," the statement said.
The summit comes at a time when the East and Horn of Africa region is facing a severe drought that has already caused a famine in parts of South Sudan and that threatens to do the same in Somalia.
Abdurahman Sharif, Director of the Somalia NGO Consortium, said the threat of famine in Somalia is real and hoped that the African leaders will commit themselves to averting it.
"If we don't collectively act now, the consequences can be catastrophic not only for Somalia but also for the region," he warned.
Over 260,000 Somalis have already been internally displaced since the end of 2016 due to the pre-famine situation.
The agencies called for international financial institutions to cancel Somalia's debts to support and accelerate the country's development and to mitigate the long-term effects of the current pre-famine situation.
NGOs are concerned that the population movement is happening within a backdrop of continuing returns of Somalis from Kenya and suspension of registration of new arrivals.
"The organizations urged Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR to suspend the return process given the impending humanitarian crisis and the adverse consequences that sustained repatriation may create and urge the government of Kenya to resume registration of new arrivals," they said.