Sixty-thousand civilians in Somalia have fled their homes over the past week as fresh fighting between Islamist insurgents and a government-allied militia claimed the lives of at least 10 people, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.
Fierce clashes in the southeastern border town of Beled-Hawa have forced thousands to seek refuge in nearby villages, with some crossing into neighboring Kenya in search of safety, said a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
At least 5,000 people _ mostly women, children and elderly _ are squatting directly at the border in a makeshift camp without shelter or toilets, said Andrej Mahecic.
"The situation of the refugees is deplorable," he told reporters in Geneva.
The U.N. agency is concerned that tensions are again rising as the al-Qaida-linked Islamist group al-Shabab is reportedly regrouping to launch an attack to retake Beled-Hawa.
"We are urging the Kenyan authorities to speed up relocation of new arrivals away so that people can be moved away from the border and into a reception center," said Mahecic.
There are already almost 1.5 million displaced people in Somalia, which hasn't had a functioning government since 1991. Some 614,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighboring countries.