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UNHCR Expands Aid to People in Somalia


The U.N. refugee agency says a lull in fighting is enabling it to give assistance to more people in Somalia's capital. The UNHCR also says internally displaced people are slowly trickling back to Mogadishu, but most are waiting to see if the city will stabilize before returning. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The UNHCR says the people returning to Mogadishu only are going back to those parts of the city that were not involved in the fighting. It says families who used to live in neighborhoods affected by the fighting are still reluctant to go back.

It is estimated that nearly 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February. That is when heavy fighting erupted between Ethiopian troops backing the Transitional Federal Government and Islamic rebels.

A U.N. refugee agency spokesman, William Spindler, says civilians do not trust the current peace. He says they are afraid they might be caught in the crossfire if fighting resumes.

"Our team reports that, even though fighting has ceased in Mogadishu, the situation remains very tense," he said. "Other former residents have not been able to return to their homes because they can no longer access the place where they used to live because of insecurity."

Spindler says many people who had been living in public buildings have been ordered to leave by the transitional authorities. He says the U.N. is trying to get them relocated to areas where they can have access to basic services.

In the meantime, he says it has become easier to assist tens of thousands of people who fled Mogadishu and are camped out in areas outside the city. For example, he says the UNHCR is continuing to deliver aid to more than 40,000 people settled in Afgooye, 30 kilometers west of Mogadishu.

Spindler says the U.N. refugee agency also is assisting poor, rural residents of Afgooye. He says many of them live in the same miserable conditions as the displaced families who fled Mogadishu.

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