The U.N. secretary general said on Friday he was humbled by the plight of Somalis fleeing famine, whose security has deteriorated in recent weeks after attacks that forced aid agencies to suspend some operations.
Ban Ki-moon visited a refugee camp in Dadaab refugee complex in the north of Kenya near Somalia.
Ban urged all Somalis to support a political roadmap agreed earlier this year that is meant to lead to parliamentary and presidential elections next year and end a string of fragile transition governments.
“I have strongly urged the TFG government (Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government) to do all their efforts to first implement road map and establish their institutions in liberated areas in central and southern Somalia, and enhance their good governance, and enhance their capacity, institutional capacity and security capacity,” he said.
The U.N. chief said Somalia has a window of opportunity to restore stability after two decades of war, and urged Kenya to do all it could to help Somali refugees.
Earlier that day Ban Ki-moon made the first visit to the anarchic Horn of Africa country by a U.N. chief since 1993 and pledged to open a U.N. political office in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu in January.
The rebel al Shabaab group in a statement said it did not recognise the United Nations as a legitimate body to regulate Somali affairs. It denounced Ban’s visit as a “futile attempt aimed at boosting the drained morale of the African Union soldiers in Somalia.”
Ban, who was accompanied by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the U.N. general assembly, said a quarter of a million Somalis still faced famine in southern Somalia.
Ban Ki-moon condemned the closure of some aid agency offices by the al-Qaeda-linked rebels last month, describing violence used against aid workers as ‘inhumane’.
“I have strongly condemned the attack on the United Nations and NGO offices by al-Shabaab. This is an attack on those people who are trying to help the most vulnerable people of this country. This is totally unacceptable, inhumane, we have to help these people,” he said.
The refugee camp in Dadaab is the world’s biggest refugee camp. Ban Ki-moon met Somali refugees at the camp and later said he was deeply saddened by the stories he heard. One family told him how they lost two children fleeing Somalia.
“This is quite humbling, I am very sad, my heart and mind are crying inside. I have heard so many concerns and difficulties from refugee camp leaders. My meeting with one family, this is really humbling and sad, they lost two children while coming to the refugee camp,” Ban said.
The U.N chief reassured refugees at the Dadaab camp that humanitarian assistance remained a top priority for the United Nations, despite an economic crisis.
“The world is going through an economic crisis at this time. There is a concern that this humanitarian assistance is now reducing. But we are very much committed, I am talking to world leaders, rich countries and business leaders and philanthropists that they should continue, they should not cut aid to refugees and other displaced persons,” he said.
In Mogadishu, Ban said his visit was to show solidarity with Somalia’s people and to pledge continued international support as government and African Union troops fight Islamist rebels and politicians work towards elections next year.
The U.N. Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) has a few political officers on the ground in Mogadishu but high-level officials are based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi due to security concerns.
Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex is home to some 440,000 Somalis who have fled war and famine.
When Somalia’s famine broke out in July, aid agencies rushed in celebrities and journalists as numbers in Dadaab’s three camps ballooned. This time, in contrast, Ban’s movements were severely restricted.
Security has been tightened sharply following the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers by gunmen linked to Somalia and a wave of low-level bomb blasts in the camps, some targeting U.N. aid convoys and police.
Relief groups have suspended non-critical operations. One refugee told Ban camp dwellers had organised their own security patrols in some areas.