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09.07.2009 International


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7 July - More than 200,000 people have now been forced to flee the Somali capital Mogadishu since fighting broke out between the Government and opposition groups in early May, in the biggest exodus from the troubled city since Ethiopian forces intervened in the Horn of Africa nation in 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

By yesterday, the eight-week offensive led by the Al-Shabab and Hisb-ul-Islam militia against the Government had driven a “staggering” 204,000 people from the capital, agency spokesperson Ron Redmond said.

“The escalating conflict in Mogadishu is having a devastating impact on the city's population, causing enormous suffering and massive displacement,” he said.

UNHCR's local partners have reported that clashes in the past week have claimed 105 lives and injured 382 people.

Neighbourhoods affected by the violence “have hitherto been islands of peace, escaping much of the conflict and destruction,” Mr. Redmond pointed out.

Many Mogadishu residents are fleeing their homes for the first time since the start of Somalia's civil war in 1991.

Many of those uprooted by the current crisis fled to the Afgooye corridor, west of the capital and already home to 400,000 displaced people. The majority are now headed further afield to the Lower and Middle Shabelle, Galgaduud, Bay and Lower Juba regions.

The UNHCR spokesperson said that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has climbed to 1.2 million, out of a total population of over 9 million.

Although the Somali-Kenyan border is officially closed, with Kenyan authorities not allowing asylum-seekers to cross, the number of people arriving at the UNHCR-run Dabaab refugee complex in Kenya – the world's largest, hosting over 280,000 refugees – continues to rise.

Since May, over 11,000 Somalis have been registered at Dabaab, bringing the total that has arrived at the site since the start of the year to 36,000.

But UNHCR said that the number of Somali refugees arriving in Kenya is far higher, since many of them have made their way to urban centres such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa.

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