GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says insecurity and lack of food continue to drive a large number of Somalis to flee their homes.
The UNHCR reports that around 146,000 Somalis have left their homes this year, as the country struggles with another poor rainy season and continued fighting between pro-government forces and militant group al-Shabab.
The agency says many of the displaced have settled in areas around Dobley and Diif, close to the Kenyan border. It says many are now integrated with host communities, while others have settled on the outskirts of the towns. It says displacements follow a similar pattern around the Dollow, Gedo region bordering Ethiopia.
The UNHCR says the number of Somali refugees also is increasing. As of this week, it says, more than 157,000 Somali refugees are sheltering in five camps and a transit center at Dollo Ado in Ethiopia. Since the beginning of this month, Somali refugees have continued to arrive at an average rate of 1,200 every week.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says the displacement and refugee crisis caused by last summer's regional drought has not diminished.
"The displacement remains a major problem. We have in the region more than 900,000 displaced people inside Somalia itself - estimates are 1.3 million or slightly above that, I believe," said Edwards. "So the factors of concern are still very much there."
These factors include poor seasonal rains, resulting in food insecurity. The UNHCR says people are moving to different towns in search of water and pasture. It says many people are leaving their homes because they are unable to provide for themselves.
Al-Shabab has become a weakened force on the battlefield and has largely left the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Nevertheless, Edwards says al-Shabab remains a potent threat to people living under its control in southern Somalia.
"People do continue to cite the fear of forced recruitment by al-Shabab and al-Shabab, as you probably know, has to a large degree moved from Mogadishu itself," said Edwards. "And, that, in itself, has caused different displacement patterns, with more people coming to Mogadishu now than we have seen previously. Access to many of these areas by humanitarian agencies remains difficult."
Edwards says many new refugees arrive in Ethiopia with all of their belongings, including donkey carts and whatever livestock they still possess. Many say other family members and neighbors in Somalia intend to follow.
The UNHCR spokesman says existing refugee camps are running out of space. So, his agency and Ethiopian authorities have agreed to extend the capacity of the Buramino camp to above 25,000, while a site for a sixth camp is being selected.