20 May 2009

Somalia: Number of Displaced in Capital Reaches 45,000 - UN

Despite a lull in clashes between Government forces and insurgents in the Somali capital, the number of people who have fled Mogadishu in the past 12 days has climbed to 45,000, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

Intense fighting condemned last week by the Security Council between Government troops and the opposition Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam groups began in Mogadishu on 8 May, with most of the uprooted heading to makeshift camps, south-west of the capital, that already are home to some 400,000 people. Those unable to afford to make the 30-kilometre journey towards Afgooye have moved to Mogadishu's relatively safe neighbourhoods of Dharkeynley and Deyninle.

"Some of the displaced say they do not believe that they will ever return to a peaceful Mogadishu," Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

People who have returned to the capital after many years of refugee life are deeply disappointed, he added.

The uprooted have told UNHCR's local Somali partners of their hurdles to reach a safe point, navigating several roadblocks and getting stuck for days on roads made impassable by heavy rains.

"The deteriorating security situation has sharply decreased humanitarian space in the conflict area, hampering the delivery of aid to the displaced," Mr. Redmond said, noting that even local agencies who have been helping internally displaced persons (IDPs) are finding it difficult to reach those in need.

Shelter and other non-food items are urgently needed, with UNCHR leading efforts to provide crucial supplies to more than 100,000 people in the Afgooye corridor and more IDPs as the security situation permits.

The UNHCR spokesperson also drew attention to the rising numbers of Somalis fleeing daily to Kenya and Yemen.

The number of refugees in the Dabaab camp in north-eastern Kenya has reached a record-high of over 270,000, the overwhelming majority of whom are Somali, which is three times the site's capacity.

"To avert a humanitarian crisis, we have repeatedly appealed to the Kenyan authorities to allocate additional land to help de-congest the camp and to donors for more funds to assist the growing number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Somalia," Mr. Redmond said, adding that UNHCR plans to transfer 10,000 refugees to another camp in north-west Kenya to ease overcrowding.

He said that the agency has yet to receive a response from the Kenyan Government regarding land allocation, while UNCHR is also experiencing serious funding shortfalls.

Last month, the agency expressed its concern over the increasing trend by Kenyan authorities to forcibly return Somali asylum-seekers, trying to reach the Dabaab camp, back to their war-torn nation.

Somalia is one of the world's biggest refugee-producing countries, and UNHCR is providing protection and assistance to nearly 500,000 Somali refugees in nearby countries while also reaching out to 1.3 million people displaced within Somalia.

Earlier this week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that at least 3.2 million people - or 40 per cent of the Horn of Africa nation's population - will continue to need humanitarian assistance and livelihood support through this September.

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