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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

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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