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Healthline Connects

World Refugee Day: Bleak Picture for Somalis & Iraqis


June 20 is World Refugee Day and the United Nations wants us all to get informed and get involved in the plight faced by millions. Refugee health is a subject I am particularly passionate about, as I wrote my graduate thesis on it about five years ago. Things started looking better for awhile, but escalations in international turmoil over the past five years have resulted in greater upheaval for many people. Violence in Somalia and Iraq have left nearly 44 million people homeless and on the move. UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres claims the rest of us are just not paying enough attention. We are not providing support to the most vulnerable people on the planet. This is a public health catastrophe.

Somehow a reader in Somalia found her way to a computer and contacted us for assistance. Right now we are assisting the only way we know how - by sharing information about the dire circumstances of the Somali people. We are asking for help from you, the Healthline community - to give us some guidance, ideas about ways we can expand assistance and awareness.

Medicens Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) seems the most direct resource, with information on their website updated this month. They have served continuously in that country for 16 years, no small feat considering there has been no central government since 1991. MSF has 60 international staff members and 800 national members working in 10 provinces in Somalia. Staff members working in the countryside report that those fleeing Mogadishu due to the escalation in violence were being accommodated by family members. They battled a cholera epidemic in April, 2007.

MSF echoes the refrain I have read elsewhere: they don't want to talk so much about crisis aid. They want long term solutions. One in four children die before they are five years old. That has been the reality of life in Somalia for decades. MSF recommends addressing basic human rights:
  • Food (malnutrition is rampant)
  • water (dehydration due to lack of access to clean water is rampant)
  • access to health care (most Somalis lack any access to health care)
  • education
  • sanitation
One other detail: Armed protection is required to deliver aid. Two MSF members were shot in Mogadishu June 5, 2007. Their driver, Abdulkarim, was killed.
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