Somali refugee crisis accelerating: UNHCR

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The UN refugee agency warned on Wednesday that another 315,000 people were likely to flee their homes in Somalia this year as the flow of refugees and displaced people grows faster than expected.

Some 1.4 million people are displaced inside Somalia while more than half a million Somalis have sought refuge in nearby countries, filling camps to bursting point, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

But the flow is increasing this year with a surge in fighting, UNHCR officials said.

"The current situation in Somalia is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions," Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Aleinikoff told journalists.

"The violence and displacement has escalated since the beginning of the year... We've already seen impacts in neighbouring states with flows to Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen."

"It was clear to everyone that displacement will get worse before it gets better, there will be more people on the move because of the current conflict," he added.

The UNHCR appealed for another 59 million dollars to cope with the expected additional outflow and to extend the overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

"We believe we'll have over 315,000 people moving into the region and inside Somalia" this year, said Raouf Mazou, deputy director of the UNHCR's Africa bureau.

"Our previous estimate was 220,000... so it's a major increase," he added.

The flow for the moment marked a gradual acceleration, said Aleinikoff.

"If Somalia falls further apart in a dramatic way, one could see a huge spike in people moving out of the country, we have to be aware of that possibility," he cautioned.

The estimated total needs to assist refugees and displaced will reach some 424 million dollars this year, even though the UNHCR only expects to collect about one third of that amount from donor nations.

The Horn of Africa nation has been blighted by relentless civil war since 1991, plunging the country into disarray and poverty, and increasing instability in the region.

© 2010 AFP

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