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Somalia: Thousands have recently fled capital, plight of those remaining becoming desparate

Briefing notes

Somalia: Thousands have recently fled capital, plight of those remaining becoming desparate

3 April 2007

Nearly 100,000 Somalis are now believed to have fled the Somali capital, Mogadishu, since the beginning of February - some 47,000 of them within the last two weeks alone. These figures, compiled by UNHCR from information provided by a monitoring network of local NGOs in Somalia, are expected to rise as more people flee Mogadishu to outlying areas despite a lull in fighting reported yesterday (Monday). Over the weekend, however, fighting was reported as intense between forces of the Transitional Federal Government and insurgents and local militia.

Most of those fleeing from Mogadishu have gone to the adjacent Shabelle region to the south-west in an exodus our partners say is comparable to the mass movement which followed the fall of the Siad Barre regime and the ensuing civil war in Somalia more than 15 years ago. Local NGOs in Somalia are reporting that nearly 50,000 people are now displaced in the lower Shabelle region. They include some 17,000 in Afgooye, a town 30 km west of Mogadishu, and another 10,000 in Marka, some 60 km to the south-west of the capital. In addition to those displaced in the lower Shabelle, an estimated 17,000 Somalis from Mogadishu have also fled to Middle Shabelle. Some 2,700 people have also moved more than 700 km north-west of Mogadishu to the town of Galkayo and its environs, where many have clan and family links.

There are also unconfirmed reports of some 2,000 fresh IDPs [internally displaced people] in Doble, a small Somali border town opposite Liboi on the Kenya side of the border and one of the official entry points into Kenya from Somalia. The Kenya-Somalia border has been closed to refugees and asylum seekers since 3 January this year.

The insecurity in Mogadishu has curtailed humanitarian access to the capital and surrounding regions, making the plight of civilians all the more desperate. UNHCR has basic supplies - plastic sheeting for shelter, mats, jerry cans - enough for up to 5,000 families in our warehouse in Mogadishu but our staff report that the area where our warehouse is located is still a "no-go" zone. As soon as we get access and the situation allows, we plan to distribute these materials to the displaced in the Shabelle region. We are also trying to bring in more supplies to Baidoa. These will also be trucked down to Afgooye and Marka for distribution to displaced families there.

Most of those fleeing from the insecure Somali capital to the Shabelle region are women and children travelling on small vehicles, trucks, or buses. Some are using wheelbarrows while others have resorted to donkey-carts or are simply travelling on foot. Some families have left weak, sick or elderly family members behind in Mogadishu. Roads leading out of Mogadishu, in particular the road linking Mogadishu and Afgooye, are said to be congested.

There are reports that rents have soared throughout the Shabelle region, making it almost impossible for people to find accommodation. In Marka, some landlords have refused to rent their houses to the displaced arriving from Mogadishu. Others are asking for an advance payment equivalent to four months rent. Almost all residents of the Shabelle region are said to have taken in relatives or members of their own clan. Displaced Somalis with no relatives or clan links are living under trees, on the roadside or out in the open. Without proper shelter, water, food or sanitation, many are resorting to begging for their survival.

Further south, displaced Somalis arriving in the port city of Kismayo have met a hostile reception from town residents who are reportedly charging even for the use of shade under trees.

In areas near Afgooye, people are queuing for more than 12 hours for water as available boreholes are unable to meet the current demand. Our staff report that the price of 20-litres of water in some of these areas has increased twenty-fold - from the equivalent of US .07 cents to US $1.33. Many people are now drinking untreated water from the Shabelle River, raising fears of an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. With scarce resources in the Shabelle region and deteriorating conditions in the already overcrowded towns and villages in the area, people are making their way further west away from Mogadishu.

Across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen, meanwhile, smuggling boats continue to arrive bringing hundreds of Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty. On April 1, three boats carrying 310 people approached the coast of Yemen. To avoid the coast guards, the passengers were forced to disembark in deep water. Six people drowned and were buried on the beach. We do not know yet if this latest group specifically fled because of the recent fighting in Somalia, but we fear that more people will be making the dangerous crossing as a result of the latest developments.

In 2006, some 26,000 people made the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden and at least 330 died. Another 300 were reported missing and believed dead. Since the beginning of this year, more than 5,000 people have landed on the Yemeni coast and at least 170 people have died. Many remain missing.