The U.N. refugee agency says the latest flare-up in fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has caused about 7,000 additional people to flee their homes and has killed or wounded a large number of civilians. The UNHCR says insecurity is hampering its ability to get essential aid to tens of thousands of vulnerable people. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency reports more than one million people in Somalia have been forced to flee their homes because of violence. It says 700,000 of them fled the capital Mogadishu last year alone.
It says the latest exodus of an estimated 7,000 people from the war-ravaged city is simply worsening an already dreadful situation.
UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says recurrent violence makes it extremely difficult for aid agencies to provide protection and assistance to hundreds of thousands of homeless people. In addition, he says aid workers regularly face problems at checkpoints where they often are asked for money in order to cross.
"Eyewitnesses have reported to UNHCR that more than a thousand families fled from their homes in two neighborhoods in the north of Mogadishu following heavy shelling of residential areas, as Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government forces engaged in fighting with insurgents, placing civilians at great risk," said Redmond.
"Scores of civilians have reportedly been killed or wounded over the past few days, among them worshippers were brutally killed in a mosque sparking fresh fears and renewed exodus of civilians from the city," he added.
Redmond says many of those fleeing the capital have sought safety in the bush or on the road to the small town of Afgooye, 30 kilometers west of the city. He says about one-quarter of one million internally displaced people already are living along this route in very precarious conditions.
Redmond says the UNHCR will distribute aid to the thousands of people camped out along the Mogadishu-Afgooye road as soon as security improves. If all goes well, he says the first phase of the distribution is planned for next week and will target seven thousand families.
He says they will receive much needed household items such as sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and plastic sheets. He says other U.N. and international agencies provide food, water and health care to the displaced.