Border remains closed to asylum seekers

The Somalia-Kenya border is to remain closed despite the arrival of thousands of new Somali asylum seekers escaping weeks of heavy fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, a Kenyan official announced.

"Our security officers have been put on high alert; no Somali will enter the country," Garissa district commissioner, Joseph Imbwaga, said on Tuesday. The decision to close the border, which was taken by the Kenyan government more than three months ago, was still in force, he added.

Eyewitnesses and aid workers said hundreds of families fleeing the fighting, in which more than 300 people have recently died, had arrived in the border towns of Doble and Harehare.

"The families have been sleeping under trees and with relatives," Abdullahi Murshid, who had just come from the area, told IRIN. "The situation is bad; it is a humanitarian crisis. Some four people died yesterday [of disease]."

One aid worker, who requested anonymity, estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 people had recently arrived. A further estimated 3,000 asylum seekers have been camping at the border area since fighting intensified in Mogadishu in December.

"These are newly-arrived people fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu," said the aid worker, who works for the local NGO in the border area. "They started coming in February [when the fighting intensified]. They are weak and in really bad shape."



Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
Somali refugees at the Kenyan border town of Liboi

He said that acute watery diarrhoea had broken out in the makeshift camp set up by the asylum seekers, adding that 22 people were being treated in a temporary treatment centre run by the local NGO. No other aid agencies have access to the asylum seekers due to the border closure.

Meanwhile in Mogadishu, a ceasefire between Ethiopian and government troops and insurgents remained in place for a second day on Tuesday. "There have been no violations by either side and the city is quiet," said a civil society The insurgents comprise the remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts and Hawiye [the dominant clan in the city] militias who are opposed to the transitional government and the presence of Ethiopian forces in the country.

Haiwye elders have named a 15-member committee to negotiate with the Ethiopians, Ugas Abdidahir Ugas Nur, a member of the Hawiye Elders Council, said.

Separately, the European Union appealed for an immediate end to the fighting calling on both sides to "agree on a sustainable ceasefire," according to a statement issued on Tuesday. Somalia, the EU said, could only be stabilised through political means.


''We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact of the conflict in
Mogadishu
''

"We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact of the conflict in Mogadishu and the indiscriminate shelling of heavily populated areas," said the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, in a joint statement.

"We urge all parties to respect unequivocally their obligations under international humanitarian law and to allow for humanitarian access to alleviate the suffering of civilians caught in the crossfire," they added.

na/ah/jm