UN agency sounds alarm over worsening crisis for Somalis fleeing violence

25 September 2009
A displaced family in Somalia

The mounting humanitarian crisis for millions of Somalis threatens to spiral further out of control as every month sees thousands more pour into already overcrowded makeshift camps and head out on deadly journeys to escape the violent clashes ravaging the country, the United Nations refugee agency warned today.

Fighting between Government forces and rebel militia has driven some 250,000 Somalis from of their homes in the capital Mogadishu alone since May, UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.

Mr. Mahecic said that most have sought shelter in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Afgooye corridor, some 30 kilometres from the capital, now home to almost 525,000 Somalis living in squalid conditions as aid workers are unable to reach them.

“The deteriorating security situation and prolonged drought in Somalia are forcing more people to flee further a field, into the neighbouring countries and beyond,” said the UNHCR spokesperson.

“Using unscrupulous smugglers, thousands risk their lives and take the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen or the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe,” he added.

So far this year over 900 boats carrying around 47,000 people have attempted to get to Yemen from the Horn of Africa, with 322 people drowned or presumed dead, and just last week16 people died and 49 others are thought to have drowned in the Gulf of Aden.

In addition, more than 280,000 mostly Somali refugees are now sheltering in the overstretched Dadaab refugee site, a complex of three camps in neighbouring Kenya designed to hold 90,000 people. Since January more than 50,000 Somalis have steadily streamed into the site, adding more pressure to its already overwhelmed facilities.

Last month UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres described the Dadaab complex, 90 kilometres from the border with Somalia, as the “most difficult camp situation in the world,” and earlier this month UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie characterized the world’s largest refugee site as “one of the most dire” she has ever seen.

Mr. Mahecic warned that after a prolonged drought, torrential rains have hit several parts of Kenya, and the agency fears heavy flooding in Dadaab in the coming weeks, posing considerable health risks to the refugees.

UNHCR provides protection and assistance to over half a million Somali refugees in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda, and the UN estimates that there almost 4 million Somalis in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.5 million IDPs, said Mr. Mahecic.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the Somalia Consolidated Appeal for 2009 is only 53 per cent funded, having received $448.5 million of the $854 million required to meet the urgent needs of the 3.6 million Somalis – about half the population – requiring water, sanitation, health care and nutrition.

OCHA stressed that aid organizations lack the resources to provide the required humanitarian assistance. Despite this, the World Food Programme (WFP) supports 190 supplementary feeding centres, targeting around 70,000 malnourished children across Somalia.

WFP and its partners also supplied 7,700 people in the north-eastern region of Puntland with 88 tons of food commodities in the past week, and provided another 44,000 people in Somaliland with 450 tons of food.

The agency has also supported the establishment of eight new supplementary feeding centres in Mogadishu, treating at least 3,250 children under the age of five and pregnant or lactating women just one week after setting up – an indication of just how dire the situation is, said OCHA.


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