Upsurge in fighting drives more Somalis from Mogadishu

Briefing Notes, 12 February 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 12 February 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Clashes between government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia in the Somali capital Mogadishu are displacing thousands of civilians. Reportedly, some 24 civilians have been killed and another 40 injured in the latest fighting, which erupted on Wednesday.

Some residents had already begun to stream out of Mogadishu a few days earlier following reports of a major military build-up and a possible government offensive against the armed opposition groups occupying parts of the city. Since the beginning of February, over 8,000 people have left the city to escape the fighting that is said to be raging in several areas, especially in the northern suburbs of Haliwaa, Yaaqshiid and Wardhiigleey. Many have reportedly gone to other relatively safe areas of the capital or to the Afgooye corridor, where there are already an estimated 366,000 people displaced by previous conflicts. The corridor, which stretches some 30 km west of Mogadishu, has one of the largest concentrations of displaced people in the world.

Over a quarter of million civilians have been forced to flee Mogadishu since May 2009 when armed opposition groups first launched attacks aimed at ousting the newly installed transitional government.

We are very concerned about the escalating violence in south and central Somalia including the capital, which is causing large-scale displacement and human suffering. We call upon all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, breaches of which have been the main cause of displacement in the capital and elsewhere in the last year.

We are stepping up our preparedness to intervene and deliver emergency relief to the affected population as soon as the security situation permits. As with other humanitarian actors, our own access is affected by conflict.

Somalia is one of the countries generating the highest number of displaced people in the world. It has more than 1.4 million IDPs; while over 560,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring and nearby countries.

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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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