The United States has extended temporary deportation relief to Somali citizens in the US, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying the humanitarian crisis and armed conflict in the African nation have created a situation too dangerous for them to return home.
In a statement on Thursday, the US Department of Homeland Security said Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Somalia would be extended for 18 months.
The move means approximately 430 Somali nationals who already have TPS will keep that status through September 17, 2024, the department said. About 2,200 others who have continually resided in the US since January 11 of this year would also be eligible to apply for the protection.
“Through the extension and redesignation of Somalia for Temporary Protected Status, the United States will be able to offer safety and protection to Somalis who may not be able to return to their country, due to ongoing conflict and the continuing humanitarian crisis,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in the statement.
Washington grants TPS to nationals of countries where conditions temporarily make it too dangerous for them to return – such as in cases of armed conflict or environmental disasters, including earthquakes and hurricanes.
The US has extended TPS to people from Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Cameroon and Ukraine, among other nations.
In December, a group of legislators from Biden’s Democratic Party urged the administration to extend and re-designate TPS for Somalia because the country is facing “a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by protracted armed conflict”.
“The security situation in Somalia remains extremely fraught, as [the armed group] al-Shabab continues to threaten the stability and safety of Somalia. Violence is rampant, with the highest number of recorded civilian casualties since 2017 according to the UN,” the legislators, who included Somali-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, said in a letter.
The United Nations said in December that, while famine had been narrowly averted in Somalia, the situation remained “catastrophic” amid widespread and severe food insecurity.
A report by UN officials and other experts, released last month, said more than 8 million people face “an unprecedented level of need” after five consecutive failed rainy seasons and “exceptionally high” food prices.
Meanwhile, al-Shabab has intensified its attacks in recent months as it fights government forces.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated group’s fighters were driven out of the capital Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but they still control parts of Somalia’s countryside.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who took office in May of last year, had pledged an “all-out war” against the group. Government troops and allied militias have made some battlefield gains against al-Shabab, recapturing territory long held by its fighters.
Last week, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for two car bomb blasts that killed at least 15 people in central Somalia’s Hiraan region.