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As tens of thousands flee fighting in Somalia, UN official urges access for relief aid

As tens of thousands flee fighting in Somalia, UN official urges access for relief aid

As crisis worsens in Somalia, where 88,000 people fled their homes in recent days adding to a total displaced population nearly ten times that amount, the top United Nations humanitarian official there today called on all parties to facilitate access by aid workers to civilians in need of assistance.

“It is high time for Somali leaders and representatives of all parties involved to do everything in your power to minimize the suffering of the civilians and facilitate humanitarian access,” said Christian Balslev-Olesen, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, in an open letter.

He called on Somali leaders and all parties, including the Ethiopian forces, to respect the distinction between civilians and combatants, not target predominantly civilian structures, and ensure safe and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations.

The Coordinator said the recent fighting comes at a time when the country is facing one of the worst humanitarian situations in years.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that up to 88,000 people have fled Mogadishu this past weekend alone due to increased fighting – more than have left the Somali capital in the past four months.

There are now roughly 450,000 people who have been displaced by fighting this year, bringing to 800,000 the total displaced population in Somalia, according to OCHA.

Many of those fleeing are seeking protection in the town of Afgooye, where some 100,000 people have found temporary shelter and continue to be assisted by UN agencies.

This weekend’s fighting is the latest among the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and other parties in the Horn of Africa nation, which has had no functioning central government since Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime was toppled in 1991.

Mr. Balslev-Olesen expressed concerned about the safety and well-being of those remaining in Mogadishu, as their ordinary livelihoods have been disrupted and access to basic necessities and services is shrinking.

He noted that many humanitarian organizations are unable to reach all persons in need, with distributions prevented by insecurity and checkpoints and ad hoc “taxation.”