Somali displaced 'trapped' in country: UNHCR
Many of the 200,000 people who have fled their homes in war-wracked Somalia this year are trapped in the country as routes out become increasingly dangerous, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
"Those who reach safety abroad speak of a dire situation inside the country," said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"According to newly arrived refugees, it is becoming increasingly dangerous and difficult to flee Somalia. Many displaced civilians are effectively trapped inside the country," he added.
The flow of Somalis fleeing abroad has decreased sharply compared to last year, even though violence is worsening.
Some 6,660 refugees are estimated to have made the sea crossing to Yemen in the first half of this year, half as many as over the same period last year, while 29,848 had reached neighbouring Kenya compared to 44,385 in the first six months of 2009.
"The reasons for this drop are not safer or more stable circumstances," Edwards told journalists.
"We estimate that more than 200,000 Somalis have been forced to leave their homes this year alone - with most becoming displaced internally."
Somalis arriving in Yemen told the UNHCR that there are a dozen checkpoints manned by armed groups between the war-torn Somali capital Mogadishu and the northern port of Bossaso where smugglers boats cross the Gulf of Aden.
Those reaching Kenya towards the southwest said they feared abuse or forced recruitment on the way, while others were too destitute to pay for sparse transport.
The rainy season has also made some roads impassable, said Edwards.
"Some of the refugees arriving in Kenya have been walking for days, resting along the way often without any shelter," he added.
However, more Somalis were reaching Ethiopia. More than 12,600 refugees arrived there in the first half of 2010 compared to some 8,400 over the same period last year, according to the UNHCR.
A medical source in Somalia said 31 civilians have been killed in two days of fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
© 2010 AFP