More than 40,000 Somalis return to Mogadishu despite renewed fighting

News Stories, 27 February 2009

© UNHCR/I.Taxte
A group of civilians leave Mogadishu last year. But despite continuing fighting, tens of thousands have gone back in recent weeks.

GENEVA, February 27 (UNHCR) More than 40,000 internally displaced people have returned to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in the last six weeks despite heavy fighting that has caused many civilian casualties.

The majority of the returnees are from Hiraan, Mudug, Galgaduud and Lower and Middle Shabelle in Somalia's southern and central regions, which are experiencing a combination of renewed conflict and severe drought, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told journalists in Geneva.

Many IDPs are returning as complete families but others are heads of households who have left their relatives behind in settlements for the internally displaced while they check the conditions of their properties.

They are returning to Hodan, Wardhiigleey, Yaaqshiid and Heliwaa neighbourhoods in north Mogadishu that were devastated by two years of war and left virtually empty. "The displaced have lost everything and are returning to ruined homes and livelihoods," Spindler said.

The latest returns are taking place at time when Mogadishu is experiencing some of the heaviest fighting in recent months, resulting in many civilian causalities and renewed displacement.

"We are in the process of assessing the scale and magnitude of the latest displacement," Spindler said. "UNHCR is not encouraging returns to Mogadishu at this juncture, as the security situation is volatile and the conditions are certainly not conducive," he added.

Access to basic services in Mogadishu is limited, with very few international agencies present on the ground because of insecurity. Nevertheless, the UN refugee agency is preparing to help returnees or those who wish to return in the near future, in the hope that the security situation will improve.

The total number of Somalis displaced within their own country is a staggering 1.3 million. Last year alone, some 100,000 Somalis sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. The number of Somali refugees in asylum countries now stands at 438,000.




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Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

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Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

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As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


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