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UN - Somali refugees strain resources of neighbouring countries, UN official warned

Thousands of Somalis fleeing the violence in their homeland are expected to cross into neighbouring countries this year where they will add to already overcrowded and under-resourced conditions in camps, the deputy United Nations chief for refugees said today.

“The burden for these countries is enormous,” said Alexander Aleinikoff, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, following a two-week visit to camps in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“If there was one resounding call from the refugees we met with it was this: please find me a new home,” Mr. Aleinikoff added.

Intense fighting in southern and central Somalia is compelling more people to flee than in any other place in the world, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced today.

Those entering Kenya most likely arrive in Dadaab, just past the Somali border. Three overcrowded camps there house 270,000 people. The Kenyan Government recently approved an extension of the camp, but UNHCR said there is not enough land for the thousands expected to arrive.

In Ethiopia, Mr. Aleinikoff and the UNHCR delegation visited two newly opened refugee camps with materials to construct small traditional dwellings, or tukuls, which must house entire families.

The number of arrivals in Djibouti has more than doubled from the last year, and the water-scarce and remote Ali Addeh camp is filled beyond capacity, UNHCR said. The UN agency is negotiating with the Government to open a new camp.

Some of the camps have housed Somalis since the Somali Government collapsed in 1991, casting the country into chaos between political factions, armed groups and clans.

Recently the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), strengthened by the African Union (AU) and with logistical support mandated by the Security Council, has fought Islamic militant rebel groups in the political arena, and on Somali streets.

The UN estimates that 100,000 people were displaced from or within Mogadishu, the capital, since the beginning of the year.

With more than 1.4 million IDPs overall, some 570,000 refugees in the region and nearly 3 million people dependent on humanitarian aid, Somalia represents one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The delegation also visited an IDP camp in Puntland, in northern Somalia, where “fire breaks out often and food is scarce,” UNHCR said.

The agency has helped resettle thousands of refugees in new countries, mostly in the United States – but acknowledged that the numbers represent “a tiny fraction of those stuck in limbo.”

A coalition of UN agencies, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have supported camp education and supplied aid, but work is hampered by security constraints and lack of resources.

The USD 46 million requested by UN agencies in the 2010 Consolidated Appeals Process for Somalia was less than 10 per cent funded as of March.

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