GENEVA, April 8 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency said Friday that fighting in south and central Somalia between government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia has displaced about 33,000 people in the past six weeks.
“UNHCR is monitoring a deteriorating situation in south and central Somalia where sporadic fighting has continued to be reported in the towns of Doolow, Bulo Hawo, Luuq, Elwaaq, Dhoobley, Diif and Taabdo,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva. “We are again urging all armed groups and forces in Somalia to avoid targeting civilian areas and to ensure that civilians are not being placed in harm’s way,” he added.
UNHCR estimates that about half of the 33,000 people displaced by the conflict since late February were in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. “Many are in desperate situations with no access to humanitarian help,” Edwards said, while noting that Mogadishu already shelters some 372,000 displaced.
More than 1.4 million people are displaced inside Somalia. Some of the most recently displaced are people who have fled shelling in Dhoobley, a town just across the border from Liboi in northern Kenya.
Dhoobley acts as a final stop-off point for people fleeing Somalia and hoping to reach the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in north-east Kenya. According to local sources, the town and its surrounding areas remain tense. Forces supporting the Transitional Federal Government have been consolidating their control of the town, which they took earlier this week.
In Bulo Hawo, a Somali town across the border from Mandera in north-east Kenya, people are in desperate need of shelter. “Our staff report that 150 permanent shelters and some 400 to 500 temporary structures were destroyed during recent shelling. The market area has also been destroyed and many people are sleeping outside,” Edwards said in Geneva.
Several local non-governmental organizations have carried out rapid assessments in Elwaaq and Dhoobley. Security and access permitting, UNHCR hopes to take part in a joint UN assessment mission to visit these and other towns and villages and plan distributions of aid.
At the end of March, UNHCR was able to distribute some 3,000 aid kits to people who had returned to Bulo Hawo after the recent shelling. These kits include plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets, sleeping mats, basic cooking utensils and soap.
Meanwhile, the number of Somali arrivals in Kenya has been steadily growing over the past three months. More than 31,000 Somalis have arrived in Kenya this year alone. Kenya hosts more than half of the 680,000 Somalis who live as refugees in neighbouring countries.