Escalating violence displaces thousands of Somalis

Briefing Notes, 2 February 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 2 February 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Violence in Somalia sharply escalated in January resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths and widespread destruction. According to local sources, intense clashes between government forces and militia groups fighting for control of the conflict-torn central regions have left at least 258 civilians dead and another 253 wounded, which makes January the deadliest month since last August. We estimate that more than 80,000 Somalis have been displaced since the beginning of the year.

During January, some 29,000 people have been uprooted by heavy fighting in Dhusamareebb in Galgaduud region, over 25,000 have fled their homes to escape renewed clashes in Beled Weyne in Hiraan region, while another 18,000 are known to have been displaced in the on-going conflict in the capital, Mogadishu. Thousands were also forced to leave their homes in other parts of Somalia.

The internally displaced people (IDPs) in Galgaduud region face difficult conditions. Fearful of returning to their homes, many are reported to be sleeping in the open with dwindling shelter and little water. There are also growing concerns about the health conditions of particularly vulnerable groups such as children, women and elderly.

So far, the deteriorating security conditions have made it hard, if not impossible, for humanitarian workers to access the needy population. UNHCR plans to distribute emergency relief items and shelter material to over 18,000 people in 27 locations where the displaced are temporarily settled around Dhusamareebb and Belet-Weyn as soon as the security situation will permit.

More than 1.4 million people are internally displaced in Somalia and some 560,000 Somalis live as refugees in the neighbouring countries. In 2009, over 120,000 Somalis sought refuge mainly in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia

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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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