SOMALIA: IDPs in dire need as more flee violence

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Local authorities in Belet Hawo, Gedo region, on the southwestern border with Kenya, are urging international aid agencies to help up to 18,000 displaced people who have sought refuge there.

"We have registered about 3,000 families [18,000 people] from March to June. There was a lull when the number of arrivals almost stopped in late May, but since the beginning of July close to 1,000 families [6,000 individuals] have arrived and they continue to arrive," Ahmed Mohamed Burkuus, Belet Hawo District Commissioner, told IRIN on 23 July.

He said every vehicle arriving in the town in July was bringing more people fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu. The fighting pits Ethiopian-backed government troops against insurgents.

He said those arriving were in two categories: "Those who want a safe haven from the violence in Mogadishu and those who want to enter Kenya."

Burkuus said life in Belet Hawo was becoming very difficult due to the large numbers of displaced people and the closure of the Kenyan border.

He said the violence in Mogadishu and the closure of the border had disrupted trading, leading to severe food price increases. "The prices of basic goods have gone up by sometimes more than 100 percent."

"People [both IDPs and locals] are desperate and need immediate assistance,” he added.

The local people have done all they can for those displaced, "but they are not any better off than IDPs", said Burkuus. He said everyone needed help with shelter material, food and medicine.

He also urged the Kenyan authorities to reopen the border to allow agencies to deliver aid. "Since the closure of the border not much has come in, in terms of aid or trade," he added. Kenya closed the border with Somalia in January 2007, fearing that armed groups fleeing from Somalia would enter the country.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Somalia) said the closure continued to delay cross-border movement of relief supplies. Up to 8,500 tonnes of food and 25 tonnes of supplementary food for malnourished children were held up on the Kenyan side of the border, according to OCHA's latest update on 20 July.

The supplies were offloaded from 290 lorries and put in warehouses. The consignment was intended for 140,000 beneficiaries in Bay and Gedo regions, it added.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that at least 10,000 people had fled fresh violence in Mogadishu during the past week.

UNHCR said violence had escalated since the national reconciliation conference began in Mogadishu on 19 July.

At least 1,000 people have reportedly been killed and more than 400,000 displaced since fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and insurgents erupted in February 2007.

Source: IRIN