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Somalia: UN agency prepares for permanent presence in north as refugee flow continues

Somalia: UN agency prepares for permanent presence in north as refugee flow continues

Somali refugees arrive in Galkayo
The United Nations refugee agency is working on setting up the first permanent international presence in the Galkayo area of Somalia’s northern autonomous Puntland region since the 1990s to cope with an influx of 12,000 people who fled the latest fighting in the strife-torn country.

The new arrivals increased the number of internally displaced people (IDP) in Galkayo to some 35,000.

A four-member UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) emergency team is currently in the region assessing the IDPs’ needs with a view to paving the way for a permanent international presence.

The recent fighting in central and southern Somalia between fighters of the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC) and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which now controls most of the two disputed areas, also sent refugees fleeing towards the country’s southern border with Kenya, where the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing rations for 6,000 people as well as 12,000 residents hosting them.

Kenya has closed the border, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today voiced concern over the deteriorating health situation, although the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has been able to bolster major hospitals in the south with medicines, medical supplies and fuel.

Also today, the first UN inter-agency mission to Mogadishu, the capital, since the TFG assumed control over southern Somalia took place today.

There are 14 refugee settlements around Galkayo town but many of the new arrivals are left to fend for themselves in the streets, living in slum conditions with no access to latrines, washing facilities or potable water, members of the emergency team said.

“Those whose clan is present in southern Galkayo receive protection and support from their clan members, but minority clan groups from further south in Somalia are collected in destroyed buildings and live in abject poverty, requiring immediate assistance,” emergency team member Alex Tyler reported.

The team drove in from the coastal town of Bosaso in Puntland on 8 January and plans to be in Galkayo for at least a month assessing the needs and numbers and helping to provide aid. It will distribute shelter kits and basic supplies such as plastic sheets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets, which are due to be airlifted to Galkayo.

It will also work with partners and local authorities to develop a comprehensive action plan addressing the longer-term needs of Galkayo's IDPs, many of whom have been here for 10 or 15 years. Somalia has had no functioning central government since the regime of Muhammad Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, and it has been buffeted by successive waves of factional fighting from then until now.

Although the TFG now controls Mogadishu some 700 kilometres southeast of Galkayo, the conflict continues to create new displacements and to prevent long-term IDPs from returning home.

Those in Galkayo are part of an overall IDP population in the border region of Puntland and central Somalia of some 80,000. In the whole country, there are more than 400,000 IDPs, most of them displaced in earlier conflicts and by drought in the south and centre.