MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 11 (UPI) — Somali refugees are fleeing to Ethiopia for fear their children might be conscripted by Islamist insurgents, a United Nations refugee official in Africa said.
“A lot of these rural families have been forced to support al-Shabaab militias that go through their areas, either giving them the animals or the sorghum they have,” Alison Oman, an official with the U.N. refugee agency, said in a BBC report Thursday.
“A couple of mothers said to me the fear was that if they didn’t have the animals to give and grain to give, then al-Shabaab might forcibly conscript children,” Oman said.
Al-Shabaab, which has ties to al-Qaida, controls most of south and central Somalia and banned aid agencies from its territories two years ago, the BBC said.
In July, Amnesty International also accused al-Shabaab of taking children into its ranks.
The number of Somalis arriving in Ethiopia in recent weeks is falling because al-Shabaab blocked routes they have been using, Oman said.
“A lot of internally displaced people who are unable to cross into Ethiopia have said they don’t have free passage and it’s not safe for them so they’re staying put or opting to cross into Kenya,” Oman said.
International aid organizations have said 12 million people in the Horn of Africa have been affected by the worst drought in the region in 60 years, their misery magnified because al-Shabaab blocked food shipments from international aid organizations.
The BBC said Somalia is the worst hit, where tens of thousands of people fled to the capital of Mogadishu, or to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.