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More Somalis Flee as Situation Deteriorates

The United Nations refugee agency says tens of thousands of Somalis are fleeing their homes as the situation in the conflict-ridden country continues to deteriorate. The UNHCR is appealing for $60 million to ease the plight of thousands of Somali refugees living in crowded camps in neighboring Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The UN refugee agency calls the situation in Somalia a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. It estimates more than 1.4 million people have become internally displaced and more than one-half million Somalis have taken refuge in four neighboring countries.

The UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Alexander Aleinikoff, has just visited Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. He says all the political leaders, refugees and aid workers he met agree displacement will get worse and more people will be on the move both within and outside the country.

"The needs here could not be greater," he said. "The needs could not be greater. In our refugee camps, which are now bursting at the seams, we have many new arrivals and their stories of conflict and violence that they are facing and that the families are facing are compelling. And, these refugees are added to existing populations. Some of the refugees in UNHCR camps in the region have been there for nearly 20 years. So, you have a combination-new flows combined with a long-standing population."

Earlier this year, the UNHCR launched an appeal for nearly $425 million dollars to provide basic assistance and protection for hundreds of thousands of Somali IDPs and refugees for 2010. So far, the agency has received 36 percent of this appeal.

The UNHCR says it anticipates more than 300,000 Somalis will flee their homes this year and go to other parts of the country or cross into neighboring countries. Aleinikoff says this large number of displaced and refugees will put a huge strain on UNHCR's budget.

"Our appeal today is to help us to prepare for the new emergency situations, for the new displacement that we expect to be coming this year. And, so, we are asking for $38.4 million to meet the needs of the new expected outflow of Somalis and $20.3 million for extension of the Ifo camp, one of the camps at Dadaab in Kenya to relieve the overcrowding there," he said.

The Dadaab camp is one of the world's oldest and most congested refugee sites. Alienikoff says there are fears of more arrivals and more intolerable overcrowding in this camp.

He says the new funding will be used to improve services in existing camps, in particular water supply, shelter and health facilities. He says the UNHCR also will use the money to open two new camps for Somali refugees in Yemen and Djibouti. He says the money will provide supplementary feeding and basic aid for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Somalis.