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UN Calls Somalia a Humanitarian Disaster


A senior United Nations official describes the overall situation of displaced Somalis as worse than anything he has seen recently in Africa. The official, who has just returned from a 10-day visit to Somalia and the region, says displaced people are living in squalid settlements that lack any basic services.

The United Nations estimates war and drought have displaced some 400,000 people in Somalia and the number is rising.

U.N. Special Advisor on Displacement Dennis McNamara says he was shocked at the appalling conditions, both in the capital, Mogadishu, and at other settlements. Some displaced people, he says, have been languishing in these camps for up to 15 years.

McNamara describes the settlements, and conditions for more than 250,000 displaced in the capital, Mogadishu, as squalid, and lacking basic services. He says the sites are relatively unprotected, and women and children are particularly vulnerable.

"No international U.N. staff member has been allowed to land in Mogadishu since last December," he said. "We have our local staff living under extremely difficult conditions, doing what they can do, but we do not have any international access. It is the only no-go capital and the only no-go huge collection of displaced persons in the world."

McNamara says Somalia has been all but forgotten by the international community, and gets little media attention, making it difficult to mobilize international donor support. The United Nations has received less than 20 percent of the $330 million appeal it launched for Somalia.

But, McNamara also criticizes Somali authorities for shirking their responsibilities, and doing little to help their own citizens. In some camps, he says, authorities are not even allowing U.N. agencies to provide sanitation.

McNamara also is appealing to the international community to do everything in its power to put an end to people trafficking. He says people are being smuggled from the northeast Somali port town of Bosasso to Yemen, an illegal gateway to jobs in the Middle East and Europe. He says the consequences often are tragic.

"Some horrendous stories of rape of women, of abuse of children, of throwing people overboard by the organizers, when they got into difficulties near the coast," he said. "And we certainly have seen photographs of passengers with their hands tied and dead on the beaches as a result. This is an awful and relatively uncovered aspect of the problem."

McNamara says this tragedy is directly related to the conditions people face in northeastern Somalia. He says they believe they have no future, and are ready to risk their lives to go to the Gulf States, or Europe in search of a better life.

He says fighting and the general misery of life in Somalia is leading to a new exodus to neighboring states. If it is not contained, he warns of a potential humanitarian disaster in the region.

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