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Somalia violence escalates

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, http://www.unhcr.org and http://www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

Thousands of Somalis were forced to flee their homes over the weekend in some of the heaviest and bloodiest street battles in Mogadishu since 8 May when the latest round of fighting between government forces and the opposition Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam groups erupted in several north-west areas of the Somali capital. We now estimate that more than 117,000 people have been displaced by the past month’s violence.

More than 200 people were reportedly killed in the last month alone, most of them civilians. Reports from hospitals indicate that some 700 people were wounded in the clashes.

UNHCR is gravely concerned about the violence and the fact that it is further aggravating an already desperate humanitarian situation on the ground.

The manner in which civilians are being victimized by this conflict is unacceptable. Parties to the conflict in Mogadishu are fighting with no regard for the safety of civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights principles. UNHCR is appealing to the belligerants to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population.

The majority of the displaced are women and children, many fleeing with very few belongings, and having to endure extremely difficult circumstances. Women are particularly vulnerable. There are reports of rape and sexual exploitation during their flight and in places of refuge. These risks are exacerbated by the limited humanitarian assistance available.

Reports received from local NGO partners supporting a hospital in Dayniile indicate that of the 218 wounded people treated in that hospital, 81 of them were women and children under the age of 14, including a six-month old baby.

Countless families have allegedly been separated due to the conflict. The events of May have worsened a pattern of indiscriminate violence that has seen at least 34 schools temporarily occupied by armed groups since the beginning of the year, and at least six schools raided or shelled in the last twelve months.

Reports also indicate that people desperate to flee are stuck in their homes for days without food or water, no access to basic services, waiting for a lull in the fighting to escape the city. A hospital in Yaaqshiid district of Mogadishu was forced to cease operations temporarily fearing for the safety of its scarce medical staff, thus limiting access to medical care for wounded civilians.

Due to the latest escalation we were forced to put on hold the scheduled distribution of life saving aid in the vicinity of a location called Kilometer 13, on the south-eastern outskirts of the Somali capital. During this phase we had hoped to provide humanitarian assistance to almost 30,000 people but the distribution was halted due to fighting between opposition groups and government forces for the control of the main road from Mogadishu to the Afgooye district.

UNHCR is leading a task force to coordinate the response and interventions of all humanitarian actors in this new emergency.

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