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SOMALIA: UNHCR concerned about fresh violence

4 October 2011

GENEVA, October 4 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday it is "very concerned" by the latest escalation of violence in southern Somalia. The renewed clashes between opposing armed groups are further exacerbating the already severe humanitarian situation.

"We urge all armed groups and forces in Somalia to avoid targeting civilian areas and to ensure that civilians are not being placed in harm's way," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.

"We have received initial, unconfirmed reports of deaths and scores of injured people. We are especially worried about the fighting and worsening situation around the town of Dobley, near the Somali-Kenyan border. Dobley is the main transit point for Somalis en route to Dadaab refugee camps," added Edwards.

He spoke as news reports from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, said a truck bomb had exploded near a government ministry and killed at least 65 people. It was the largest attack since the Al Shabaab militia withdrew its forces from the city in August.

Edwards said UNHCR was particularly worried about the well-being and safety of displaced Somalis who are likely to get caught in fighting while fleeing through the Dobley area. "Our partners in tracking the movements of populations inside Somalia report that some 65 families make the journey from Dobley to Liboi in Kenya each day en route to Dadaab [refugee complex in Kenya]," he said.

"Many also use alternate routes through Diif and Degelema on the Somali side and Dhadag Bulla in Kenya. On average, 1,000 new Somali refugees continue to arrive in Dadaab camps every day. These camps are now home to more than 456,000 refugees," the spokesman added.

Although UNHCR has yet to ascertain the number of people fleeing from Dobley, the refugee agency estimates the new displacement to be significant. In addition to having its own local population, Dobley was also a temporary shelter for many internally displaced people from other parts of southern Somalia and farmers displaced from areas around Dobley.

Relentless fighting, human rights abuses, crippling drought and famine have forced more than 300,000 Somalis to leave their country since the beginning of the year. Two thirds of this number fled over the past four months alone. Many died inside Somalia. Others perished either en route to safety or upon reaching the camps - weakened by hunger, the gruelling journey on foot, and disease.

Before the latest episode of violence, several aid agencies were providing assistance in Dobley.

Meanwhile, there are dozens of new Somali arrivals at the Kenyan border town of Liboi, where they are awaiting transport to the Dadaab refugee camps some 80 kilometres away. Due to heightened tensions and insecurity in the border area humanitarian agencies have not been traveling to Liboi for several days now. "We hope the convoys transporting weak and exhausted Somali refugees from the border to Dadaab camps will resume as soon as possible," Edwards said.