Some 45,000 Somali civilians flee Mogadishu in past two weeks

News Stories, 20 May 2009

© UNHCR/A.Webster
A group of internally displaced Somalis. Many live in very harsh conditions.

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 20 (UNHCR) Despite a lull in fighting in Mogadishu, the number of people fleeing the Somali capital in the last 12 days has risen to 45,000. Intense fighting between government forces and the opposition Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam groups erupted in several areas of north-west Mogadishu on May 8.

A significant proportion of the displaced are heading towards the Afgooye corridor, south-west of Mogadishu, swelling the ranks of the sprawling, makeshift camps that have sprung up there in the last two years. These sites already host an estimated 400,000 people.

But many others could not afford to make the 30 kilometre journey and have moved to the relatively safe neighbourhoods of Dharkeynley and Deyninle in the south-west of Mogadishu.

Some of the displaced say they do not believe they will ever return to a peaceful Mogadishu. Others who had recently returned home to start afresh after years of refugee life in neighbouring countries are deeply disappointed.

They told UNHCR's local partners in Somalia of the hurdles they had to scale to reach a safe point, navigating several roadblocks and getting stuck for days on roads made impassable by heavy rains. Many of them are joined by relatives who have endured two harsh years in sites for internally displaced people (IDP) and who lack proper shelter and sufficient food.

The deteriorating security situation has sharply decreased humanitarian space in the conflict area, hampering the delivery of aid to the displaced. Even local agencies that have often provided a lifeline to the IDPs are encountering new risks as they try to help out the needy.

One of the most urgent needs is shelter and other non-food items, which humanitarian agencies led by UNHCR plan to provide first to more than 100,000 people in the Afgooye corridor and neighbourhoods in north-west Mogadishu, and afterwards to people in other areas of the city as soon as security permits.

At the same time, the number of Somali refugees fleeing to Kenya or across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen is rising daily. The number of civilians in north-east Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex has reached a record 272,800, mostly Somalis. This is three times the number for which Dadaab was originally designed, putting enormous pressure on camp facilities and straining its resources.

To avert a humanitarian crisis, UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the Kenyan authorities to allocate additional land to help decongest the camp, and to donors for more funds to assist the growing number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Somalia. UNHCR also plans to transfer 10,000 refugees to Kakuma camp in north-west Kenya to help reduce the overcrowding in Dadaab.

However, the refugee agency has yet to hear from the government of Kenya on the land allocation, while on funding, UNHCR's Kenya operation is experiencing serious shortfalls, with just US$16.5 million out of a total original appeal of US$91.6 million received for the Emergency Assistance Programme for Somali Refugees in Dadaab.

UNHCR provides protection and assistance to more than 499,000 Somali refugees in nearby countries, including Kenya (292,194), Yemen (142,394), Ethiopia (40,439), Uganda (8,889) Djibouti (8,741), Eritrea (4,636) and Tanzania (1,527). It also coordinates protection and shelter activities for Somalia's 1.3 million internally displaced in Somalia.

By Roberta Russo in Nairobi, Kenya

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Crossing the Gulf of Aden

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.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

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.

Somalia/Ethiopia

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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