The UN refugee agency is appealing for $48 million to provide badly needed assistance until the end of next year for thousands of Somali refugees who have recently fled conflict in Somalia. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva that the appeal will also fund humanitarian programs for people displaced within Somalia.
Right now, the UN refugee agency is assisting 312,000 people internally displaced within Somalia. The agency says it believes that number will rise to 478,000 by the end of 2008 given the ongoing instability in the country.
In the last week alone, aid agencies report about 10,000 people have fled renewed fighting in the capital Mogadishu. UN refugee spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says it is difficult to know how many more people may be obliged to leave in the future. But, she says it is important to be prepared now to help those who will need assistance within the coming year.
She says people who have been forced to flee are under enormous stress. She tells VOA conditions under which they live are deplorable.
"People are living in some of the worst displacement conditions in Africa. They are living in very crowded, high-density areas. Rents for these areas are very, very high," she said. "So, people are cramped together to bring the cost down. And, that sanitation is poor and everything else that comes along with living in a highly densely population area with very poor conditions."
Less than half of the $48 million appeal will benefit internally displaced people in Somalia. The rest will be used for Somalis who recently have fled the country and have sought refuge in Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen and Djibouti.
Pagonis says the number of new refugees is not enormous. But, they still need help.
"Already in Ethiopia, the government there has recognized over 4,000 refugees and moved them away from the border and will now be constructing or revitalizing a camp for them to go into. And, about 500, a very small number, have arrived in Djibouti. But, there, there is almost no facilities for welcoming refugees. And, they live in a very difficult situation in the streets of the capital essentially until we can move them to a camp," said Pagonis. "So, there are different needs in different countries."
Because of insecurity, aid workers are unable to access certain areas. This is hampering the delivery of relief. But, UNHCR's Pagonis says aid agencies are hoping the ongoing negotiation process and involvement of the international community will result in an improved security situation and humanitarian access.