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The long, dusty walks from hungry homes to far-away refugee camps are again claiming lives in Somalia one year after up to 100,000 people died in the country’s worst famine in generations. Two lethal factors are again combining to send families fleeing from their homes: Too little rain and too many guns. Enough rain did fall in Somalia this year to prevent a repeat of last year’s massive famine, but it wasn’t enough to keep everyone fed. In addition, al-Shabab militants who have been forced out of larger cities are infiltrating smaller towns where they are demanding payments from families in money, livestock or children, residents said. The weekslong walks to refugee camps made by hundreds of thousands of Somalis last year turned sandy paths into roads of death for the famine’s weakest victims. Refugees in Dolo are telling similar heartbreaking tales of weak children being left behind to die. One baby being carried on her mother’s back in recent weeks died during the walk, a doctor said. In a cruel replay of last year’s hunger marches, many families who left refugee camps as the crisis eased this year went home, attempted to plant food but are now returning to the stick-hut camps. “Before we were hoping for a good rain. But we got very little,” said Ali Ganoon Abdi Rahman, a 75-year-old who walked nine days with his wife, daughter and four grandchildren. They arrived in Dolo earlier this week. [Washington Post]

Refugee advocates have urged the federal government’s expert panel to totally rethink Australia’s asylum seeker policies. The panel, led by former defence chief Angus Houston, alongside refugee advocate Paris Aristotle and foreign affairs head Michael L’Estrange, have been taking written submissions and meeting interested parties ahead of writing a report on the issue. The completed report will be made public by mid-August when parliament resumes. On Thursday social justice groups including GetUp!, the Refugee Council of Australia, Chillout, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project joined forces to meet the panel in Canberra. Backed by former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and Amnesty International, they were critical of the asylum seeker debate. Mr Fraser said the current policy impasse must be broken. “The demeaning debate has done enormous harm to Australia’s reputation in the region. We must have a decent and humane policy that does not jeopardize people’s lives and meets all our international obligations.” [The Australian]

The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday the number of Syrian refugees that it has registered or assisted in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey has almost tripled since April to 112,000, mostly women and children. The actual number of Syrian refugees is thought to be significantly higher, as many people seek to be registered only when they run out of resources. “In all four countries, many newly arriving Syrian refugees are dependent on humanitarian aid, with some coming with only the clothes on their backs and following many months of unemployment,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva. “The needs of those who arrived earlier in the year are also increasing as their savings have become depleted,” he noted. At the same time, the communities supporting the refugees are increasingly feeling the strain, with the local infrastructure and resources under severe pressure, in particular water, housing, schools and health facilities. In Jordan, more than 33,400 Syrians are now registered with UNHCR. Almost 80 per cent of them registered in the past four months. This exceeds the number of Iraqi refugees registered in Jordan (29,091). [AlertNet]

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