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UNHCR Preparing For Possible Exodus of Thousands of Somalis



30 December 2006

The U.N. refugee agency says it is preparing for the possible exodus of thousands of Somalis to neighboring countries, in the wake of the fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and Islamist fighters. The UNHCR tells VOA it is pre-positioning enough food for 50,000 refugees. Lisa Schlein reports from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

Spokesman Ron Redmond tells VOA the UNHCR has to have contingency plans in place, in case there is a large influx of Somali refugees into neighboring countries.

He said, "That is a very real possibility in this conflict in Somalia, because, so far this year, we have already seen more than 34,000 Somalis fleeing to northern Kenya to our refugee camps in the Dadaab region near the border with Somalia."

"So, we have already seen fairly substantial number of Somalians fleeing earlier this year before this latest fighting. So, there is certainly a possibility that we could be seeing more and we need to be prepared," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports hundreds of people may have been killed in the recent fighting, which forced thousands of people from their homes. It says more than 800 wounded civilians and fighters have been admitted to hospital in recent days.

Redmond says the UNHCR is reinforcing its operations in northeastern Kenya. He says the agency is putting enough relief supplies along the border with Somalia for up to 50,000 people.

"These supplies are already in UNHCR warehouses in the region. So, it is just a matter of moving them closer to the border, so they are there if needed," he said. "And, longer term, we are also looking at purchasing additional relief supplies for up to 100,000 people, if necessary. We are also moving more equipment - trucks and other sorts of materials, to Kenya to boost our logistical capacity."

Redmond says no significant refugee movements have yet been seen from the recent fighting. But, he says there are reports of people headed toward border areas, and, he says, heavy flooding in the region makes it difficult for people to move around.



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