Fighting forces more Somalis to flee Mogadishu, pushing number of displaced to almost 170,000

News Stories, 26 June 2009

© UNHCR/E.Hockstein/December 2008
Almost 160,000 Somali civilians have fled from Mogadishu since early May. Many cannot hide the strain.

GENEVA, June 26 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday said it was "gravely concerned" about spiralling violence and the worsening displacement crisis in Somalia, where almost 170,000 people have fled the capital Mogadishu since a fresh wave of fighting erupted in early May.

"Fighting between government forces and the opposition Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam, which erupted on May 7 in several north-west areas of the Somali capital Mogadishu, is leaving a trail of civilian casualties, destruction and renewed displacement," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

According to records of local Somali hospitals, more than 250 civilians have been killed and at least 900 wounded during this period. "We estimate that since the start of the fighting in May more than 169,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere within Somalia or in neighbouring countries," Spindler said. Between last Friday and Monday alone, an estimated 33,000 were displaced from Mogadishu due to the heavy fighting.

The majority of the internally displaced people (IDPs), some 51,000, moved to safer districts within the city or makeshift IDP settlements on the outskirts of Mogadishu, while another 48,000 fled towards the Afgooye corridor to the west of the capital. They joined more than 400,000 civilians who have been displaced since 2007. A further 70,000 have gone to more distant locations, including the districts of Lower and Middle Shebelle, Lower Juba, Galgaduud, and Gedo.

According to UNHCR's local partners, some of the displaced are heading towards neighbouring countries. And some are families that had recently returned home following a period of relative peace in Mogadishu during the first four months of the year.

Many IDPs tell stories of hardship and suffering as they try to flee the embattled Somali capital. Most of the people are trying to leave the city on board minibuses. Drivers are reportedly charging US$250 or more for a fare. UNHCR partners in Somalia spoke with some of the displaced in Afmadow, some 400 kilometres south-west of Mogadishu. One of these, a mother of six, said it took her nine days to reach Afmadow as the local transporters took her money and then left her and her children stranded along the route.

The deteriorating security situation has sharply reduced deliveries of desperately needed humanitarian aid to the displaced in and around Mogadishu. "Our local partners that have been providing a lifeline to the IDPs are facing growing security problems as they try to help the needy," said Spindler in Geneva.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Kenya, the number of refugee arrivals from Somalia continues to rise. Since the beginning of the year, some 38,000 new refugees arrived in Kenya, virtually all of them Somalis. In June, the Dadaab camp in the north-east received 4,104 refugees. Sheltering more than 280,000 people, Dadaab is the largest refugee complex in the world.

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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.

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During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

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This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

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