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The new year has certainly not brought about improvements on the ground in Somalia, with the latest report from the U.N. refugee agency finding that a staggering 63,000 people have already been displaced this year due to ongoing violence.
The massive displacement stems from conflict that has erupted in central and southern Somalia since the start of the year. Most recently, fighting broke out in the capital of Mogadishu between Somali government forces and two militias, al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam. This violence has displaced an estimated 14,000 people over the last two weeks; 10 people, including children, were killed.
Fighting also broke out earlier in the month between government-aligned militia Al Sunna Wal Jamma and Hizbul Islam in Beledweyne. According to the U.N. refugee agency, 11,900 were displaced and are temporarily settled around the central Somali city. In the nearby city of Dhuusamarreeb clashes between Alu Sunna Wal Jamma and al-Shabaab displaced 28,800. U.N. spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the displaced are in urgent need of shelter, water, and care.
This new influx of displaced people is joining the ranks of countless Somalis who have already been forced to flee from their homes—as of September 2009, there were almost 400,000 IDPs just in and around Mogadishu. The spike in numbers will compound an already desperate situation in which aid agencies have limited access to a population that suffers from constant attacks, sexual violence, child recruitment, and a lack of basic necessities. Earlier this month, the World Food Program, the U.N.’s food relief program, suspended its operations in much of south and central Somalia due to militant threats, adding the potential of starvation to the litany of problems plaguing the population. In total, Somalia has a huge internally displaced population of 1.5 million.
It was good to see that the Associated Press, for one, found it important to pick up on the story. As Foreign Policy’s Josh Keating aptly noted on Twitter yesterday, “When are 63,000 displaced people in one month not a HUGE story? When they’re in Somalia."