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UNHCR Delivers Relief Supplies to Thousands of Displaced Somalis


The U.N. refugee agency says trucks are now delivering relief supplies to some 20,000 people internally displaced in Somalia. The UNHCR says 28 tons of supplies were airlifted into southwestern Somalia this week from the agency's emergency stockpiles in the United Arab Emirates. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency says trucks are now carrying the aid items southward to Afgooye, where thousands of Somalis came after fleeing from recent fighting in the Somali capital. Afgooye is 30 kilometers from Mogadishu.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says blankets, plastic sheets, and other supplies will be distributed to displaced families, mainly in Afgooye and the nearby town of Marka.

"Thousands of displaced Somalis have spent nearly two weeks without proper food, water or shelter and other aid items," said Redmond.

"Families with no relatives or clan links in the area continue to live in the open, many of them just under trees. The need for shelter material is now more pressing because the rainy season is normally beginning this month," he added.

UNHCR spokesman Redmond says the agency has additional stocks for up to 5,000 families in Mogadishu and smaller quantities in Marka. But he says the dangerous security situation is making it difficult to get the items out of the warehouses.

He says there are reports that several hundred people are making their way to Doble, a small Somali town at the Kenyan border. The UNHCR does not have access to Doble for security reasons. But private aid agencies there report a daily trickle of people from Mogadishu to the town.

They say Doble is hosting between 2,000-3,000 freshly displaced people. The agencies describe conditions as desperate. They say the health situation is deteriorating, following reports of an outbreak of diarrhea last week.

Kenya closed its borders to refugees and asylum seekers in early January. Redmond says the UNHCR is urging the Kenyan authorities to reconsider this decision.

"We realize that governments have legitimate security concerns and other responsibilities for its national security," he said. "But we believe these concerns can be met, while at the same time ensuring that people who are in need of international protection can get it.

"And we are prepared to work with the Kenyan government to ensure that proper screening of new arrivals is carried out and that would enable us to ensure that asylum is only granted to genuine asylum seekers," Redmond continued.

Kenya has said it is concerned that terrorists or people with links to al-Qaida might be among those Somalis seeking asylum.

The UNHCR estimates that nearly 130,000 Somalis may have fled from Mogadishu since early February. This is when clashes erupted between Ethiopian troops and rebels trying to overthrow the transitional government.