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Displaced by conflict, families in Somalia often left divided

News Stories, 13 August 2009

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

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

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UNHCR country pages

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

New Arrivals in Yemen

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.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

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.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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