Thousands flee Mogadishu as fresh fighting erupts
MOGADISHU, Somalia, October 30 (UNHCR) - A weekend of violence in Mogadishu has set off another wave of displacement from the war-torn Somali capital, sending thousands more civilians from their homes. "This round of fighting is the worst in months," an aid worker told UNHCR.
More people were preparing to flee Mogadishu on Tuesday morning, even though the situation seemed to have calmed down after fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents engulfed the city.
"Large numbers of people have packed their belongings to leave Mogadishu," a UNHCR member of staff said in the besieged city. "But some families are simply sitting under trees, feeling totally lost because they don't know whether to stay in their homes, relocate to another part of the city or leave altogether."
The UNHCR staff member said that even if these people did leave, they had no idea where to go because they did not have relatives who could provide them with food and shelter outside Mogadishu.
Hundreds of families in several neighbourhoods in areas close to the city's sprawling Bakara market - Mogadishu's major trading centre - were loading trucks, buses and donkey carts with household items on Tuesday. According to some accounts, residents had been told by city officials to vacate the four districts close to the market, as security operations were going to take place.
Many of those preparing to leave the capital expressed fear that this latest round of violence could lead to major battles in the city. They said insurgents had begun attacking police stations and military bases in broad daylight, and that the scale of fighting had reached a higher military level. Most previous attacks were carried out at night and with lighter weapons.
Some of the residents said they feared being caught in more fighting. They complained that Ethiopian troops were firing indiscriminately on insurgents and civilians, as there was little to differentiate the two. The insurgents wear no uniforms.
Most of those leaving Mogadishu were heading to the town of Afgooye, which is already struggling to cope with an earlier influx of up to 100,000 people who fled there from Mogadishu earlier this year. Afgooye is 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu.
Those making their way to Afgooye planned to join relatives who already have shelter in the crowded settlements that have spread along the road linking the town and Mogadishu.
In addition to the latest round of fighting, many said they had lost their source of livelihood after the total closure of Bakara market over the weekend. Others said there were no food supplies coming into the city as the main roads had also been closed for days, blocking trucks which bring supplies from the port to the market.
UNHCR has delivered aid to 78,000 people in Afgooye this year, and is prepared to carry out more distributions. The Somali Transitional Federal Government said in May that insurgents had been ousted after three months of fighting, which led to nearly 400,000 civilians leaving the volatile capital.
An estimated 125,000 of them have since returned to the city. But renewed violence sparked a second wave of departures in June, with an estimated 90,000 people fleeing their homes. Most of them remain outside Mogadishu.