Two UN agencies on Thursday kicked off the distribution of the more than 1,500 metric tons of life-saving food aid for refugees and asylum seekers in Somalia.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UNHCR said the distribution has already begun in Mogadishu, Galkayo, and Bosasso, and is expected to commence in Somaliland on Sunday.
“Distribution will be carried out in a single series of days or weeks depending on the number of those receiving assistance in each location,” the two UN agencies said in a joint statement issued in Mogadishu.
The UN agencies said nearly two-thirds of the refugees and asylum seekers are in Somaliland, where the distribution is expected to take more time.
According to the UNHCR, Somalia’s refugees and asylum seekers are mainly Ethiopians and Yemenis who fled conflict and persecution in their own countries, most of them settling in Berbera, Bossaso, Galkayo, Hargeisa and the country’s capital Mogadishu.
The two UN agencies signed a three-month agreement in July to provide life-saving food assistance to some 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Somalia, mainly women, and children.
UNHCR Representative Johann Siffointe said the outbreak of COVID-19 in Somalia has made life extremely difficult for the most vulnerable, including refugees and asylum seekers, with many at risk of going hungry.
“We have seen that since the pandemic, foreigners are sometimes stigmatized and among the first to lose their daily wages, making this partnership with WFP so vital in cushioning the blow they are facing,” Siffointe said.
Somalia has confirmed 3,265 COVID-19 cases and 93 deaths as of Tuesday.
According to UNHCR, a vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers calling the agency’s hotlines during the COVID-19 period have lost their only source of livelihood and are unable to meet their basic needs since March.
Prior to the loss of work, many refugees and asylum seekers in Somalia worked as casual laborers or small business owners.
WFP on its part will provide a three-month supply of food rations consisting of cereals, pulses and oil.
UNHCR’s community-based NGO partners and WFP will carry out distribution in localities where the refugees and asylum seekers have settled.
“We welcome this partnership with UNHCR which gives WFP an opportunity to save the lives of the most vulnerable, including refugees and asylum seekers. We do everything we can so that no one is left behind particularly in this difficult time,” said WFP Somalia Deputy Country Director Emmanuel Bigenimana.
The UNHCR said its cash assistance provided to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers has not been enough to meet their basic needs in the context of the pandemic, underscoring the need for the one-time extraordinary food distribution.