UNHCR decries Al-Shabaab ban of relief agencies
Publisher: Xinhua News Agency
Author: by Christine Lagat
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

NAIROBI, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) – The UN refugee agency on Tuesday decried Somalia's Al-Shabaab insurgents for raiding the offices of several humanitarian agencies on Monday and banning their activities.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement received in Nairobi that the drastic action came at the time of a dire humanitarian crisis in southern and central parts of Somalia.

"We are concerned about Al Shabaab's announcement yesterday (Monday), permanently revoking work permissions to a number of UN organizations including UNHCR in parts of Somalia under their control," it said.

The UN refugee agency said it was assessing the impact of such ban which came after drought and famine, continued fighting and heavy rains further aggravate already dramatic condition of displaced Somali civilians.

More than two thirds of Somalia's estimated 1.46 million internally displaced people live in southern and central parts of the country and humanitarian needs there are immense, UNHCR said.

"We are assessing the impact of this latest development on our humanitarian operations in these parts of Somalia.

The Somali militants, who have imposed a harsh form of sharia law in south and central Somalia, announced on Monday they were banning 16 aid agencies from operating in the anarchic country where tens of thousands of people have died from famine since April.

Al-Shabaab accused the aid agencies of political bias, misconduct and illicit activities.

They also said the agencies had not been doing useful work, but that other groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, would still be allowed to operate.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said its office in the southern city of Baidoa had been occupied, but that all staff were safe.

Jaya Murthy, interim communications chief for UNICEF Somalia, said Al-Shabaab's actions could threaten feeding programmes for 160,000 severely malnourished children across the centre and south of the country.

The UNHCR said continuing military operations and heavy rains are limiting the movements of displaced population in Somalia's Gedo region bordering Kenya.

It said there have been no cross-border movements between Dobley in Somalia and Liboi in Kenya or vice-versa as people are unable to move as the rains make roads impassable. Others are reluctant to move, fearing ambushes or getting caught in the crossfire while on the move.

However, UNHCR said, there are reports of over 500 people, including children, travelling on foot from Qooqaani, Tabta (both in Gedo region) and Afmadow (Lower Juba) towards the border town of Dobley.

"They cite a lack of food in their towns, cut off by the recent rains and military activity. Some people who have already arrived in Dobley told our staff that they were forced to leave their homes due to lack of food," UNHCR said.

"Even those with means were unable to buy food. They indicated that they are willing to return as soon as the situation improves and are not planning to cross the border in order to reach Dadaab. A number of agencies are operational in Dobley, undertaking distributions of food and other assistance."

The insurgents banned food aid last year in the areas it controls and kicked many relief organisations out, saying aid created dependency. It lifted the ban in July but now appears to have reneged on that.

The UN refugee agency said it has noted a profound change in the root causes driving the forced displacement in Mogadishu, adding that while drought accounted for the vast majority of displacement in the Somali capital during the first three quarters of this year, as of October it has seen 8,300 people displaced by conflict in the capital and just 500 displaced as a result of the drought.

"Overall, our partners and staff are reporting that the movements into Mogadishu from other regions have declined compared to previous months, mainly due to fighting in Daynile and Heliwa districts. Reported displacements were mostly within Mogadishu districts and also from Daynile to Hodan district," it said.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR deplored rising insecurity in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps, which it said continues to hamper UNHCR's operations.

"It has been several weeks since the authorities stopped registering new arrivals. Aid agencies cannot assess the number and condition of new arrivals as our movements are still limited in the camps,"UNHCR said.

According to UNHCR, more than 360 refugees have been affected by cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. Most are treated as outpatient cases and there is a need for more supplies of oral rehydration salts and other treatments.

"Despite security restrictions, the authorities managed to complete a mass oral polio vaccination campaign for all refugee children under five years of age," it said.

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