ADDIS ABABA, March 7 (Xinhua) -- The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR on Tuesday said it is scaling up assistance in Ethiopia's Somali region to support and assist recently arrived refugees fleeing clashes in Somalia.
Some 100,000 Somalis have arrived in Ethiopia's Doolo zone in the Somali region in the past four weeks to escape clashes and insecurity in the city of Las Anod of Sool region, a statement issued Tuesday quoted UNHCR Representative in Ethiopia Mamadou Dian Balde as saying.
Noting that most of them are women, children -- many arriving unaccompanied -- and elderly, UNHCR said its teams together with partners are rushing to provide assistance to the newly arrived Somali refugees in the hard-to-reach area of Ethiopia.
"Many arrive in shock, telling stories of loved ones lost during flight or killed in the conflict. Some have arrived injured. Newly arrived families are sheltering in schools and other public buildings while others have no choice but to sleep outside," Balde said.
As the refugees are arriving in a remote area, heavily affected by the ongoing drought, the UNHCR said its teams and partners are taking two days of driving on dry, sandy roads to reach those newly arrived from Las Anod.
Since the refugees started arriving in early February, the Ethiopian Government's Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) together with the UNHCR and other partners have worked around the clock to provide these families with life-saving assistance.
Noting that some 30,000 people have already been registered so far, the UN refugee agency said protection desks have been set up to rapidly identify vulnerable individuals and refer them to services. Family tracing and reunification support programs have been put in place.
Critical relief items, such as sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and high-energy biscuits are being provided. While food distribution is expected to take place soon, the provision of water and shelter remain key challenges.
The UNHCR said Ethiopia, a long-standing refugee host country, is facing a worsening humanitarian situation with conflict and drought triggering large-scale internal displacement over the past years.
It, however, said despite the increased needs, the UNHCR's operation in Ethiopia was among the least funded last year. As the new emergency unfolds, the UNHCR called for additional financial support to meet the urgent needs of these newly arrived Somali refugees. ■