Displaced by conflict, families in Somalia often left divided

Hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia have been forced to leave their homes due to ongoing conflict, and the flight to safety often leaves families separated.

Violence in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has forced some two hundred thousand people to flee their homes. Many have sought shelter in nearby Afgooye.   © UNHCR/M.Sheik Nor

MOGADISHU, Somalia, August 13 (UNHCR) - A month after fleeing her home in the aftermath of a gun battle between government forces and militants in the Somali capital Mogadishu, Maryan Abdow Ali has still not been able to find seven of her eight children.

Only her six year old daughter could be located in the chaos that followed the fighting. Faced with the threat of further conflict, mother and daughter abandoned their home for the relative safety of Afgooye, some 30 kilometers away.

They then walked a further eight kilometers to Arbiska where they were taken in by Halima Dahir Farah, who runs a displaced person's camp where they are now based along with ten other families who fled the fighting in Mogadishu. "My three boys and four girls are still missing," recounts Maryan tearfully.

Maryan's story is not unique. Since May, the conflict in Somalia's capital between government forces and the Al Shabaab militia has forced nearly 247,000 people to flee their homes. UNHCR estimates that of those, 61,500 have fled to settlements in Afgooye. Many say they are determined to cross the border into Kenya or join the thousands who have paid human traffickers to take them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

"The situation is deteriorating. More and more people who are forced to flee from Mogadishu are facing unbearable conditions," said UNHCR's Senior Protection Officer, Fatima Mohammed. "We are doing our best to give at least emergency shelter and some relief items to the families in need, but the security situation does not allow us to reach all the people who are in need." UNHCR, though a local partner, has already distributed relief items to over 80,000 people, including almost 30,000 in the area where Maryan currently lives.

Sadiyo Hussein Haji is another of the displaced relaying on humanitarian assistance. In mid June, the 39-year-old woman, her elderly mother and her six children were forced to flee Mogadishu when the fighting became too much for them to bear. "My mother is ailing and she could not stand the constant sound of gunfire. The children also had difficulties sleeping at night," she said.

During the conflict, her husband and two children, a girl aged 14 and a boy aged 16, went missing. "We stayed behind in our house for five days waiting to see whether they would return," said Sadiyo. They then left for the Ceelasha IDP settlement. Unable to afford bus fare, the family walked for two days. They arrived without money to rent accommodation or buy food. "We were reduced to begging for our upkeep," said Sadiyo. "My mother was given a small shelter because of her ailing health." The family was recently resettled to a newly built IDP camp.

"We are appealing to international and local NGOs to help us with food, shelter and health facilities," pleads Sadiyo.

There are an estimated 1.3 million internally displaced people in Somalia and more than half a million Somali refugees living in the surrounding countries. The UN refugee agency assists Somali refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Uganda, Eritrea, Tanzania and Djibuti. In Somalia, UNHCR assists vulnerable groups of internally displaced by providing them with shelter, relief items and by implementing livelihood projects aiming at making them self-sufficient.

By Esther Mwangi in Nairobi