The UN refugee agency is airlifting emergency teams to Somalia and Ethiopia. It?s trying to determine how many people have been displaced in Somalia and whether Somali refugees are trying to cross into Ethiopia.

Catherine Weibel is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. She has just returned from an area south of the town of Galkayo in Somali?s Puntland region. It?s one of the areas where the agency?s assessment teams are heading.  From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

?UNHCR has just sent an emergency response team to central Somalia to the town of Galkayo because we need to assess the needs of all the Somali families, who have very recently fled to the south of the country. And they fled because of the fight between the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) and ICU (Islamic Courts Union). Many of the people I talked to in Galkayo tell that their houses have been destroyed and are very frightened to go back?many women have lost their husbands during the fighting,? she says.

She says that many are without any support and live in ?abject poverty.? ?They need, of course, immediate assistance. And especially they need shelter...they need latrines; they need water and access to health (care). And of course the children need to be helped.?

It?s expected to take months to determine how many people have been displaced in Somalia. ?According to our information, there are up to 25,000 leaving Galkayo?and about 2,000 of them are families who arrived in the last weeks (sic).?

The UNHCR is providing thousands of plastic sheets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets.