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

More than 40,000 internally displaced people have returned to Mogadishu in the last six weeks despite heavy fighting that has caused many civilian casualties.

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

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.