Australia can play a key role in Somalia talks: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy article written on the 22 Feb 2012

A key international conference on Somalia this week offers the Australian Government a unique opportunity to help ensure the concerns of ordinary Somalis are at the centre of any future Somalia strategy, international agency Oxfam said today.

With Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd due to speak at the London conference on Somalia tomorrow, Oxfam urged the Australian Government to call for a new international approach to the country, where 2.3 million people are still in need of emergency aid.

Oxfam Australia’s director of policy, James Ensor, said the international community needed to increase its focus on the short and long-term needs of Somali people.

Mr Ensor said Australia was well placed to encourage other foreign leaders to commit to this new direction, having been one of the most generous donors to the Horn of Africa food crisis, contributing more than $141 million – much of which went to Somalia.

“As an increasingly important and respected international voice on Somalia, we encourage the Australian Government to use its growing influence to remind the world that Somalia still faces a catastrophic humanitarian emergency,” Mr Ensor said.

“Any international strategy agreed in London must address how to best ensure unrestricted, independent humanitarian access to those in need, as well as ensuring the safety and protection of Somali civilians.”

Somalia is still in the midst of its worst humanitarian crisis in decades, with 325,000 children suffering acute malnutrition, and nearly a third of the population estimated to be in crisis.

In a new briefing note, “A Shift in Focus – putting the interests of Somali people first”, Oxfam said internationally supported efforts to find a political or military solution to the crisis – while a reaction to real security and stability concerns – have too often been counterproductive.

Not only have these efforts failed to address the root causes of conflict and build the long-term peace that Somalis desperately need, they have at times exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and undermined the international community’s own relief efforts.

Continued fighting in regions throughout south-central Somalia is blocking the delivery of vital assistance, while warring factions on opposing sides have struck camps where civilians have sought refuge, as well as hospitals, a feeding centre and more than one aid agency compound.

Oxfam said a solution to the decades-long conflict in Somalia required a greater emphasis on peaceful and sustainable solutions.

“Any future strategy must be led by the interests and wishes of the Somali people, including regional authorities, civil society and women’s groups,” Mr Ensor said.

“This is critical in order to end the current humanitarian crisis and support Somalia to achieve the development and security that has eluded it for so long.”

A copy of the briefing note “A Shift in Focus – putting the interests of Somali people first” is available here. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795 or