Latest figures show 90,000 flee fighting in Mogadishu
MOGADISHU, Somalia, October 31 (UNHCR) - Almost 90,000 people have fled Mogadishu or moved to safer areas within the city to escape the latest outbreak of violence in the war-torn Somali capital.
An aid worker in Mogadishu had told UNHCR on Tuesday that fighting on Saturday, Sunday and Monday was "the worst in months." The situation in the city was calmer on Wednesday and the number of civilians fleeing appeared to fall though people were still seen leaving the capital or preparing to move out.
The mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Dheere, issued a radio message on Tuesday urging civilians to stay in their homes. He claimed that people had misunderstood his earlier declarations calling for the evacuation of districts near the sprawling Bakara market as security operations were going to take place there. His words appeared to reassure some people.
But many families wanted to go somewhere safer. "You can feel tension in the air," a Somali aid worker told UNHCR. "Everyone is afraid that the lull in fighting is not going to last. They fear the insurgents are organizing themselves and that violence is going to be unleashed on an even higher scale."
The latest fighting pitted Ethiopian troops, in Somalia to help the Transitional Federation Government (TFG), against insurgents. Fighting earlier this year led to an exodus of nearly 400,000 people from the coastal city.
Of the people who have left the capital since Saturday, about 46,000 have settled along the road linking Mogadishu to Afgooye, some 30 kilometres to the west, according to the latest figures collected by a network of UNHCR's local partners. They say another 42,000 have either fled Mogadishu for areas outside the city or moved to safer neighbourhoods within the capital.
The new arrivals in Afgooye joined some 100,000 displaced people who fled the capital earlier this year. Many of them moved into small shelters constructed by their relatives in settlements that have mushroomed in the area.
"Entire families are now crammed in tiny huts," a UNHCR staff member reported from Afgooye. "Those who arrived this weekend were hoping to go back to the capital in a matter of days, but now they see their relatives who have been here for months, they lose hope."
Exiled within their own country, many people can't hide their frustration. "You see groups of people spontaneously protesting, crying for help from the international community and wondering aloud how long Mogadishu will keep on being destroyed," the UNHCR staff member added.
The displaced include large numbers of women and children who have left behind their male relatives to take care of their homes and belongings. With the fresh influx, more shelters, food, water and sanitation facilities are needed.
According to UNHCR's local partners, the 88,000 people recorded as fleeing Mogadishu came largely from the districts of Hodan, Hawl Wadaag, Wardhiigley and Haliwaa. Some 17,000 had moved to relatively safer areas within the city while 56,000 went to Lower Shabelle province, including the 46,000 in Afgooye. A further 8,000 went to Middle Shabelle and some 5,600 travelled to Baidoa, some 250 kms north-west of Mogadishu.
The UN refugee agency has delivered aid to 78,000 people in Afgooye this year and is prepared to carry out more distributions.
The TFG said in May that the 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.