The U.N. refugee agency says relief agencies have temporarily suspended aid in the town of Dhobley, on the Somali-Kenyan border because of fierce clashes between armed groups. The agency warns the renewed fighting is worsening an already terrible humanitarian situation.
Dhobley is the main transit point for Somalis heading to the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports an estimated 1,000 new Somali refugees fleeing conflict and starvation continue to arrive in Dadaab camps every day.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says the agency fears for the safety of displaced Somalis who are likely to get caught up in fighting while fleeing through this part of the country. He says aid agencies working in Dhobley and in the Kenyan border town of Liboi are also at risk.
"We are not able to continue our work right there," Edwards said. "We have withdrawn our staff for the moment. However, I think we have to watch and see how that situation unfolds over the coming days. But, clearly, we have been saying all along that you need humanitarian assistance inside Somali if we are going to begin to address this problem. It is crucial this fighting stop, that we be allowed to and others, our partners, be allowed to resume this kind of work as soon as we can."
The UNHCR reports more than 300,000 Somalis have left Somalia this year to escape relentless fighting, human rights abuses, drought and famine. Two-thirds of those 300,000 have fled in the past four months alone.
Drought and famine have killed thousands of people in Somalia this year. Others have perished while trying to reach the Daadab camps, weakened by hunger, disease, and the grueling journey on foot.
Before this latest round of violence in and around Dhobley, Edwards says several aid agencies were distributing emergency assistance to the vulnerable population.
"Meanwhile, there are dozens of new Somali arrivals at the Kenyan border town of Liboi, where they are awaiting transport to Dadaab," added Edwards. "Due to heightened tensions and insecurity in the border area humanitarian agencies have not been traveling to Liboi for several days now. We hope the convoys transporting weak and exhausted refugees from the border to Dadaab, some 80 kilometers away, will resume as soon as possible."
The U.N. refugee agency says it has received unconfirmed reports of deaths and scores of injured people among those caught in the Dhobley fighting. It says the escalating violence has caused a significant number of people to flee from Dhobley to other towns, and possibly into Kenya.