UN agency ramping up aid efforts as clashes drive more Somalis from capital

A crowd of Somalis pressing around a minibus, hoping to get out of Mogadishu [File Photo]

12 February 2010 – The United Nations refugee agency is stepping up efforts to provide emergency relief to civilians displaced by the latest surge in fighting in the Somali capital, where some 24 people have reportedly been killed and another 40 injured since Wednesday.

Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that the agency’s efforts will be impacted by the security situation. “As with other humanitarian actors, our own access is affected by conflict.”

There are more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Horn of Africa nation owing to escalating violence and a worsening humanitarian situation, with another 560,000 Somalis living as refugees in neighbouring and nearby countries.

Another wave of fighting erupted between Government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia in the capital on Wednesday. UNHCR said some residents had already begun to stream out of Mogadishu a few days earlier following reports of a major military build-up and a possible Government offensive against the armed opposition groups occupying parts of the city.

Since the beginning of February, more than 8,000 people have left the city to escape the fighting that is said to be raging in several areas, especially in the northern suburbs of Haliwaa, Yaaqshiid and Wardhiigleey, stated the agency.

“Many have reportedly gone to other relatively safe areas of the capital or to the Afgooye corridor, where there are already an estimated 366,000 people displaced by previous conflicts,” said Ms. Fleming.

The corridor, which stretches some 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu, has one of the largest concentrations of displaced people in the world.

Over a quarter of a million civilians have been forced to flee Mogadishu since May 2009 when armed opposition groups first launched attacks aimed at ousting the newly installed Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

The UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, today congratulated the Somali Government on its first anniversary and urged it to continue its efforts to restore peace and stability to the country.

He noted that the Government has made some important progress in the past 12 months, which he has personally witnessed on visits to Mogadishu, including work on the port, airport and Parliament. However, their efforts have also been impeded by the ongoing conflict.

“Unfortunately, they have had to spend time and resources trying to stop the violent attacks by extremists who oppose all their attempts to bring normality back to the country,” said the Special Representative.

“Many people recognize that Somalia is moving from being a failed State in conflict to a fragile State with major development and reconstruction needs,” Mr. Ould-Abdallah added, noting that the focus of peace efforts should not only be on security, political or humanitarian issues but also on economic development and, in particular, job creation and the promotion of trade and business.

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