Frightened Somalis flee to Kenya
NAIROBI Tue, 10 Oct 2006 – Somali refugees are continuing to pour into neighbouring Kenya in record numbers as tensions rise between powerful Islamists and the weak government, the United Nations (UN) has said. More than 2,000 Somalis have arrived at reception centres in northeast Kenya since Friday, with 1,300 registering on Monday alone when the government made its first incursion into a Muslim-held town, the UN refugee agency said.
More than 30,000 people have fled Somalia since the beginning of the year, swelling the mainly Somali refugee population at the UN camp in Dadaab to 157,000 and placing a severe strain on resources, it said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of ration cuts next month at Dadaab, about 470 kilometres northeast of Nairobi, if it doesn’t get more than eight million dollars in urgent funds.
Meanwhile, elders in southern and central Somalia told UN officials that the surge, due to fears of widespread conflict in the regions and crop failures, was unlikely to end in the near future, UNHCR said in a statement.
“The elders said the current influx would not end soon and confirmed that they were aware of at least 3,000 to 4,000 Somalis en route to the Kenya-Somalia border via Dobley,” it said.
Dobley is a Somali frontier post across from the Kenyan town of Liboi, where the UN has erected one of two new reception centres to handle the flood of refugees that skyrocketed on Monday, it said.
The numbers soared on Monday after Somali government troops, allegedly backed by Ethiopian soldiers, briefly occupied the town of Burahakaba, about 60 kilometres southeast of the administration’s seat in Baidoa.
The Islamists seized on the reported presence of Ethiopian forces to declare holy war on Ethiopia in a veiled threat to the transitional government that is backed by Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia and the government have repeatedly denied the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia despite numerous eyewitness reports.
The move on Burahakaba was the first offensive operation by the government, which has been wracked by infighting since it was formed in Kenya in 2004, the latest in more than a dozen attempts to restore stability in the anarchic nation.