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Concerns raised for humanitarian work after Somali militants ban aid agencies

UNICEF says it fears for the lives of malnourished children who have been receiving food from its workers, who have been banned by al-Shabab fighters.

File photo of a UNHCR camp for internally-displaced persons in Dolo, southern Somalia
File photo of a UNHCR camp for internally-displaced persons in Dolo, southern Somalia
Image: AP Photo/Jason Straziuso/PA Images

AID AGENCIES have voiced their concerns about being forced from southern Somalia by the militant group al-Shabab.

The group yesterday issued a statement ordering 16 agencies to leave the area including the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agenca (UNHCR), the Danish Refugee Council and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The militants accused the organisations of “illicent activities and misconduct” including supporting “subversive groups seeking to destroy the basic tenets of Islamic penal system”, according to IRIN.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), which has operating in Somalia since 1998, said yesterday that al-Shabab fighters had taken over its offices in south central Somalia. The head of the group’s international department Ann Mary Olsen said: “Their action was undramatic but it does unfortunately prevent us from providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance in the affected areas at the moment.”

The DRC said it will continue its operations in other parts of Somalia.

UNICEF says that their staff in Baidaeo, southern Somalia were told to leave by the fighters. Spokesperson Jaya Murthy says that the organisation is extremely concerned that any disruption in the provision of its services could lead to the death of severely malnourished children.

The UN estimates that a quarter of a million people are in danger of starvation in Somalia, which has been plagued by drought and violence. Tens of thousands have already died as a result of famine-related causes this year.

A Somali elder in Baidoa, Ahmed Khalif, was among the locals who openly criticised Al-Shabab’s move, saying: “It’s a disgusting decision. It will force us back to famine and misery again. The difficult tasks the aid agencies have done to fight the famine are only half-done.”

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Al-Shabab began banning foreign humanitarian staff from operating within Somalia two years ago, but allowed some organisations to continue their work. Yesterday’s move could be a reaction to increasing international pressure on the militant group; Kenya recently deployed troops across the Somali border in an effort to tackle the militants.

- Additional reporting by the AP

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