Displaced Somalis cornered by latest fighting

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.

UNHCR is alarmed by a new escalation of violence this week in several parts of south central Somalia. We are particularly worried for the civilian population caught up in what appears to be a coordinated offensive against Al-Shabaab militants on multiple fronts, namely in Mogadishu, Beled Weyne in Hiiraan region, and Beled Hawo in the Gedo region.

On Wednesday, African Union (AMISOM) and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops launched an offensive against Al-Shabaab positions in the Dayniile and Hodanin neighbourhoods of Mogadishu. At the same time, Ethiopian forces and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa militia aligned to the transitional government have undertaken a coordinated push against Al-Shabaab militias from Beled Weyne, in Central Somalia. The same forces also attacked Al-Shabaab in the town of Bulla Hawo close to the border with Kenya and Ethiopia.

Around 300 Somalis have crossed into Kenya over the past few days to escape the fighting, and we have received reports from them of many injuries. Other civilians, including women, children and the elderly, remain trapped and unable to reach safety.

UNHCR fears that displaced Somalis could be squeezed on three fronts, unable to escape and seek refuge in either Ethiopia, Kenya or in Somalia's northern Puntland region. We again urge 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.

Our Somalia operation has deployed staff to the Kenyan town of Mandera near the Somalia border, while an emergency team from the Dadaab refugee camp is on stand-by. Already 2,000 emergency relief kits, comprising shelter materials, blankets and kitchen sets, have been dispatched from Mombasa for distribution in the Gedo region for those displaced from Beled Hawo and other areas.

Together with a local partner, we have also distributed 2,500 emergency relief kits in Mogadishu's Dharkenley district. Security permitting, we are planning to undertake more such activities in the coming weeks.

Somalia generates the highest number of refugees in the world, after Afghanistan and Iraq, with almost 1.5 million internally displaced and over 680,000 Somalis living as refugees in neighboring countries.