UNHCR positioning staff and relief items in Horn of Africa as thousands flee Somalia fighting
GENEVA, December 27 (UNHCR) - As the fighting in Somalia intensifies, the UN refugee agency is mobilising staff and resources in preparation for possible widespread displacement in the region.
Although no large-scale refugee movements from Somalia have yet been recorded in neighbouring countries, UNHCR is immediately positioning relief items in the region for up to 50,000 people, as well as trucks and emergency staff.
The agency is reinforcing its operational capacity in north-eastern Kenya and in Ethiopia in response to the worsening humanitarian situation in Somalia, where thousands of people have been displaced by recent fighting between Ethiopian forces aligned with the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the Islamic Courts Union.
Relief items, including plastic sheets and jerry cans for up to 50,000 people, are being sent from UNHCR warehouses in the region and positioned along the Somali border. At the same time, UNHCR's fleet of vehicles is being expanded with the deployment of 10 extra trucks.
In addition to the immediate pre-positioning of relief items, UNHCR will also increase its existing stockpiles in the region by purchasing enough supplies for a further 100,000 people - refugees as well as internally displaced people.
UNHCR emergency response teams are on standby, ready to be sent to the region from around the world. Staff on holiday leave have been recalled as UNHCR offices in Kenya, Ethiopia and across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen closely monitor the situation for any increase in cross-border movements. So far, only small numbers of refugees have been crossing into both Kenya and Ethiopia.
Inside Somalia, thousands of people fleeing the conflict are reported to be in a desperate situation. UNHCR staff in Puntland, in the north-east, report some 3,000 displaced people who fled the fighting further south. UNHCR has also received reports of several thousand people displaced in the Bay, Hirann, Mudug, Juba, and Shabelle regions. The agency is particularly concerned about reports of civilians, including children, being forcibly recruited to join the fighting.
In a statement issued in Geneva on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Somalia and appealed to all sides in the conflict to respect humanitarian principles and the rights of the civilian population.