LONDON (AlertNet) - An escalation of military activity in a densely populated region of Somalia has forced thousands of civilians to flee and is hampering famine recovery efforts, aid agency Oxfam says.
African Union troops and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government have launched a major new offensive in the Afgoye corridor, where 400,000 people live in camps, Oxfam said in a statement.
It called for all parties to protect civilians by avoiding the use of excessive force.
“People in Afgoye have been among the worst affected by the famine and are still extremely vulnerable,” said Senait Gebregziabher, the head of Oxfam’s Somalia programme.
“The last thing they need now is an increase in fighting that places them in the crossfire, forces them to flee their homes again and cuts them off from aid and livelihoods.”
The Afgoye corridor, home to a third of Somalia’s displaced population, is a 40-km stretch of road northwest of the war-torn capital Mogadishu. Makeshift camps have sprung up along the route since fighting began to escalate in 2007.
FLIGHT TO MOGADISHU
Oxfam said its partners had reported seeing thousands of people fleeing the area on foot and hundreds of trucks, cars and donkey carts piled high with mattresses and other household items. Some neighbourhoods were said to be completely empty.
"We have never seen such a massive influx of people on the move at one time. People are reporting deaths and damage to property as a result of the clashes and endless shelling. They are heading now to safer locations in Mogadishu," one partner was quoted as saying.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 7,200 Somalis had been forced to flee the region over the past two weeks. Of these, more than 5,200 had left in the past three days following clashes that broke out on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, UNHCR staff observed 150 minibuses and donkey carts bringing displaced people into Mogadishu, where most people were heading.
UNHCR said its teams saw some people settling into existing settlements for the displaced in Mogadishu while others moved towards recently-vacated districts in the capital or found shelter with family or friends.
The agency said it would be increasing assistance to provide shelter, food and water.
Britain is hosting a major international conference on Somalia next week to discuss measures to tackle instability.
Aid organisations will be meeting in London on Monday ahead of the conference to look at ways to improve humanitarian access. Some 1.3 million people are internally displaced within Somalia, according to UNHCR.
Meanwhile the U.N. Security Council is expected to give the green light next week to a plan to boost the AU force in Somalia which is trying to defeat Islamist militants in the lawless country.
The proposal is to increase the force, which first entered Somalia in 2007, from 12,000 to around 17,700 troops and step up equipment support from the U.N. budget.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.