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Surge in fighting uproots more Somalis, reports UN refugee agency

12 January 2010 – The United Nations refugee agency warned today that many parts of central Somalia are witnessing a surge in fighting, sparking growing displacement and worsening the plight of an already beleaguered population.

Clashes last week between two rival militia groups – Al Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jaama – have reportedly killed or injured over 150 people and displaced some 7,000, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which adds that the figure of internally displaced persons could be higher.

Ongoing conflict has disrupted services and livelihoods, leaving the civilian population extremely vulnerable, the agency says.

“As the security situation does not allow UNHCR’s immediate intervention, we are in discussions with our local NGO [non-governmental organization] partners to find ways of delivering assistance to the people displaced by the latest fighting in the quickest time possible,” agency spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.

Some 1.5 million people in the Horn of Africa nation that has been torn apart by factional fighting and without a functioning central government since 1991 are displaced owing to escalating violence and a worsening humanitarian situation.

UNHCR reports that the number of Somalis arriving in neighbouring countries is on the rise, with some 3,000 Somalis registered as refugees in Ethiopia in December alone.

Over 110,000 Somalis have sought asylum in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti last year, bringing the total number of Somali refugees in the region to over 560,000.

Mr. Mahecic said aid agencies are worried that growing insecurity, drought and the suspension of food aid in south central regions could worsen Somalia’s humanitarian crisis and trigger large-scale influx into other countries.

Over the past year the number of people in need of assistance in Somalia has risen from 3.2 million to 3.8 million, well over half the total population.

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