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Relief agencies: Somalia too dangerous for us to work

  • Story Highlights
  • 40 aid agencies: "Crisis engulfing Somalia has deteriorated dramatically"
  • NGOs warned of "an impending humanitarian catastrophe"
  • Statement coincides with U.N. report on the country
  • Kidnappings, piracy, international terrorists plaguing Somalia, U.N. says
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(CNN) -- Nearly 40 relief agencies serving Somalia said Tuesday they can't help millions of Somalis, blaming the existence of too many checkpoints, danger that aid workers face and "a lack of respect for international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict."

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Somali children rummage through garbage to look for food in Mogadishu, Somalia, in September 2007.

"The crisis engulfing Somalia has deteriorated dramatically, while access to people in need continues to decrease," said a statement signed by organizations including World Vision, Oxfam International and Cooperative Assistance for Relief Everywhere, among others.

The statement was timed to coincide with a scheduled U.N. Security Council meeting this week to discuss a report issued on Somalia by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month.

The organizations want the humanitarian situation to be part of any discussion or decision on the situation in the African nation.

Since the NGOs warned of "an impending humanitarian catastrophe" in October, some 360,000 people in Somalia have been displaced, the statement said, and an additional 500,000 rely on humanitarian assistance.

"There are now more than 1 million internally displaced people in Somalia," the statement said. "Intense conflict in Mogadishu continues to force an average of 20,000 people from their homes each month. This, combined with record high food prices, hyperinflation and drought in large parts of the country, is leaving communities struggling to survive."

In Ban's report, issued March 14, he noted that Somalia's security situation remains "volatile"; that kidnappings and acts of piracy continue to take place, particularly in the northern part of the country; and that there are indications international terrorists have sought safe haven in at least two districts.

A 15-kilometer (9-mile) stretch of road between Mogadishu and the town of Afgooye is now home to some 250,000 displaced people, according to World Vision, and has been described by the United Nations as "probably the single largest IDP [internally displaced persons] gathering in the world today."

The organization said "numerous obstacles" prevent humanitarian aid from reaching all those in need. They include "administrative delays, restrictions or delays in movement of goods, targeting of humanitarian workers and assets including the looting of aid and carjackings, piracy [and] negative perception of humanitarian workers," among others.

Six aid workers have been killed in Somalia since January 2008, World Vision said, triggering some agencies to pull their personnel from the country. As of Tuesday, the number of checkpoints and roadblocks was 396 -- a huge increase from the 147 reported in January 2007, the organization said.

The statement implores the international community, as well as parties to the Somalian conflict, to focus on the humanitarian situation there.

Last week, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, pleaded with the Security Council not to turn its back on the nation.

"Please don't abandon Somalia," he said in a meeting Thursday. "Please don't punish them, especially those who were not born then, or were not responsible during the early '90s when their elders made mistakes against the international community."

Meanwhile, Somali refugees have affected neighboring countries. Authorities in Djibouti estimate about 100 refugees cross the border daily, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

One Somali, Faizo Ibrahim Ali, told the UNHCR, "There was no choice but to flee, because of there is war there -- and a woman alone is in great danger of being raped."

The Djibouti government says it is overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. So far this year, more than 2,000 refugees have been registered by the UNHCR -- that's more than double the number recorded in all of last year.

"This is an urgent situation and it's necessary to intervene as soon as possible, so that we can accommodate these people in a dignified manner," Hassan Omar Mohammed, secretary general of Djibouti's interior ministry, told the UNHCR. "Otherwise it will be a catastrophe."

Djibouti will keep its borders open for now, the U.N. reported, but added that the nation's officials are worried that without adequate support, they will have no choice but to close them. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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