Number of Somalis displaced in current wave of violence nears 120,000

News Stories, 9 June 2009

© UNHCR/E.Hockstein
A group of Somali women forced to flee their homes sit and ponder their future.

GENEVA, June 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday condemned the victimization of Somali civilians in Mogadishu after a weekend spike in the fighting in the capital sent thousands more people fleeing the city. This latest exodus pushed the number of displaced from the capital past the 100,000-mark to 117,000 since street battles erupted on May 8.

"UNHCR is gravely concerned about the violence and the fact that it is further aggravating an already desperate humanitarian situation on the ground," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

The fighting between government forces and the opposition Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam groups in several north-west areas of Mogadishu left more than 200 people dead over the past month, mostly civilians, with hundreds of injured in local hospitals.

"The manner in which civilians are being victimized by this conflict is unacceptable. Parties to the conflict in Mogadishu are fighting with no regard for the safety of civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights principles," Spindler said. "UNHCR is appealing to the belligerents to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population."

In Nairobi, UNHCR's Representative to Somalia Guillermo Bettocchi also urged the rival forces to respect the rights of civilians. "The suffering civilians are going through is unacceptable. All warring parties in this conflict should be reminded of their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians, to refrain from indiscriminate attacks on civilians and to limit their attacks to military targets," he said.

The majority of the displaced are women and children, many fleeing with very few belongings, and having to endure extremely difficult circumstances. Women are particularly vulnerable. There are reports of rape and sexual exploitation during their flight and in places of refuge. These risks are exacerbated by the limited humanitarian assistance available.

A 21-year-old woman, carrying her baby in her arms after fleeing Mogadishu by bus, told staff from one of UNHCR's local partners that her husband had been killed in the latest fighting and she wanted to make her way across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. "I didn't give money to the bus driver, but he used my body," she alleged, while adding: "I will never come back to Somalia."

Reports received from local NGO partners supporting a hospital in Mogadishu's Dayniile neighbourhood indicate that of the 218 wounded people treated in that hospital, 81 were women and children under the age of 14, including a six-month old baby.

Countless families have allegedly been separated due to the conflict. The events of May have worsened a pattern of indiscriminate violence that has seen at least 34 schools temporarily occupied by armed groups since the beginning of the year, and at least six schools raided or shelled in the last 12 months.

Reports also indicate that people desperate to flee are stuck in their homes for days without food or water, no access to basic services, waiting for a lull in the fighting to escape the city.

A hospital in the strategically important Yaaqshiid district of Mogadishu, fearing for the safety of its scarce medical staff, was forced to cease operations temporarily and thus limiting access to medical care for wounded civilians.

Due to the latest escalation, UNHCR was forced to put on hold the scheduled distribution of life-saving aid in the vicinity of a location called Kilometre 13, on the south-eastern outskirts of the Somali capital. During this phase the UN refugee agency had hoped to provide humanitarian assistance to almost 30,000 people, but the distribution was halted due to fighting between opposition groups and government forces for the control of the main road from Mogadishu to the Afgooye district.

UNHCR is leading a task force to coordinate the response and interventions of all humanitarian actors in this new emergency.

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UNHCR country pages

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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