On Sunday, a UN mission is going to remote areas of eastern Ethiopia following reports of Somali refugees crossing the border. The reports say the Somalis began leaving the country after the Islamic Courts militias took control of the capital, Mogadishu.
Jennifer Pagonis is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
“We’ve been receiving some very sketchy reports of Somalis arriving in the far east of Ethiopia and southeast Ethiopia. We don’t have any idea about how many people may be concerned. So, we’re going out there with other UN agencies (WFP and OCHA) and also with the Ethiopian Authority for Refugees and Returnees, who are responsible for refugee issues in Ethiopia, just to find out how many people are there and to see what their needs are.”
The UN mission is expected to last several days. “It’s a pretty large area that they’re going to have to cover. We’re not exactly sure where all these people are or even indeed if they are there,” says Pagonis.
The UNHCR is already caring for Somali refugees that have gone to Kenya. “Since the beginning of the year, 18,000 Somalis have crossed over the border into Kenya, saying they they’ve been fleeing severe drought and the uncertain security situation around the Mogadishu area. We’ve noted that that flow has increased recently. And this is indeed of concern to us and we’ve got to increase the numbers of people who we have working out there in northeastern Kenya to be able to cope with these higher numbers.”
The Somali refugees in Kenya are three UNHCR camps at Dadaab, which are now home to nearly 150,000 refugees from the region.