Upsurge in fighting drives more Somalis from Mogadishu

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Clashes between government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia in the Somali capital Mogadishu are displacing thousands of civilians. Reportedly, some 24 civilians have been killed and another 40 injured in the latest fighting, which erupted on Wednesday.

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

Over a quarter of 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 government.

We are very concerned about the escalating violence in south and central Somalia including the capital, which is causing large-scale displacement and human suffering. We call upon all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, breaches of which have been the main cause of displacement in the capital and elsewhere in the last year.

We are stepping up our preparedness to intervene and deliver emergency relief to the affected population as soon as the security situation permits. As with other humanitarian actors, our own access is affected by conflict.

Somalia is one of the countries generating the highest number of displaced people in the world. It has more than 1.4 million IDPs; while over 560,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring and nearby countries.