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UNICEF Representative in Somalia assesses impact of conflict on children and families

© UNICEF/HQ07-0006/Kamber
A woman with two small children sits in a makeshift tent in a camp for the displaced in Kismayo, Somalia.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 12 January 2007 – Children in southern Somalia are suffering from recruitment and abduction into militias, displacement from their villages and other ill effects of an increase in violence and instability in the region.

Somali families in the most vulnerable communities are fleeing their villages and heading for the Kenyan border. But once they get there they are unable to cross to safety, as the borders are closed. Over 65,000 people have been displaced by the recent flare-up in fighting.

In an interview with UNICEF Radio today, UNICEF Representative for Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen expressed grave concern for people in the conflict zone. Many problems are converging at once, with a dreadful impact on children, he said.

Entire population affected

The good news is that the country’s Transitional Federal Government has been able to regain control of the capital, Mogadishu, said Mr. Balslev-Olesen. But he added that there is also bad news – a resurgence of activity in the capital by dangerous warlords, who had been relatively inactive over the preceding six months. 

As a result of the warlords’ return to Mogadishu, as well as the fighting in the south, children throughout Somalia are now being affected by conflict.

© UNICEF/HQ07-0004/Kamber
Two children walk in a crowded street in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Following several days of fighting the city is relatively peaceful, though there is sporadic gunfire.

“The children being mobilized into the militias, the children detained and the children on the run, because of fighting in the villages, are the most affected people and the most vulnerable,” said Mr. Balslev-Olesen.

“But we are also concerned about the ordinary children who are not involved in the conflict,” he noted. “Parents are taking children out of school because of fear of letting them go into the street, where they may be recruited by militias. So the whole population is affected.”

UNICEF’s activities curtailed

Mr. Balslev-Olesen is particularly concerned because security issues have significantly limited the work of UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies.

“Due to the war in the southern part of the country, we have had to terminate or suspend a number of lifesaving activities and programmes,” he said. “That’s in the area where children are suffering most because of conflict, and we’re not able to get access to these people. It’s very frustrating.”

For children in Somalia, the situation is dire. Today, UNICEF and Save the Children issued a joint press release to alert the world to their plight.

“These children are definitely not getting the support they need,” asserted Mr. Balslev-Olesen. “There has been reported harassment of NGO workers, including UN workers. We cannot do our work. People are not getting the assistance they need and that we are mandated to give, because of the ongoing conflict.”




12 January 2007:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny talks with Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen about UNICEF’s response to ongoing instability there.
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