Thousands of Somalis fleeing to Ethiopia

An estimated 10,000 Somalis fleeing instability in their home country have reached Dollo Ado, in the Somali Region of southern Ethiopia, and more are expected in the next few weeks, Save the Children (US) has said.

The NGO, which has set up assistance, emergency education activities and psychosocial support for the refugees, said most of them were women and children.

"It is critical to act quickly to mitigate further suffering of the refugee children and women who have endured years of fighting and humanitarian catastrophe, and to avert undue pressure on the host country Ethiopia, which is recovering from a recent drought," said Margaret Schuler, Save the Children's country director in Ethiopia.

The refugees, it said in a 3 February statement, were fleeing instability in Somalia in the wake of the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. Their number was expected to reach 25,000 with more arrivals in the next few weeks.

Responding to an Ethiopian government appeal for additional support for the refugees, the NGO said it would spearhead the emergency education response as well as emergency nutrition interventions.

Somali children have borne the brunt of years of conflict and violence and traditional support networks have crumbled under enormous economic and security pressures in the country.

Drought in Somali Region of Ethiopia

Yet the adjacent Somali Region of Ethiopia has 1.5 million people who also need emergency assistance this year. The region, Save the Children noted, has suffered the loss of livestock/assets and faces increased malnutrition following consecutive failures of seasonal rains.

According to the UN World Food Programme, a succession of poor or failed rains has led to the loss of so many animals in the Somali Region that families can often no longer support themselves.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has hailed the election of new Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed as an "encouraging development" and a "great opportunity" for the war-torn country.

Ban, who was attending the African Union heads of state summit in Addis Ababa, told reporters: "I am quite hopeful and optimistic that we are now entering a new stage with a direct intervention of the United Nations in managing peace and stability there."

Ahmed, the former chairman of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS), was elected president by the Somali parliament in Djibouti on 31 January. He has promised to ensure that hundreds of thousands displaced Somalis return to their homes.