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Renewed exodus from Mogadishu reaches distant Somali town


Renewed exodus from Mogadishu reaches distant Somali town

Since June nearly 27,000 people have fled the Somali capital, with some 2,600 of those arriving in the town of Galkayo, 700 km away, where many other displaced were already living.
3 August 2007
A Somali woman belonging to a Bantu minority who received assistance from UNHCR in South Galkayo, where many have gone to escape violence in Mogadishu.

GALKAYO, Somalia, 3 August 2007 (UNHCR) - With renewed violence engulfing Mogadishu, thousands of Somalis have been driven from the capital and are again on the move.

Since June nearly 27,000 people have fled the battered capital. About two-thirds of those are sheltering in the neighbouring provinces of the Shabelles, but 2,600 have fled further north to the town of Galkayo, 700 km away in the north-eastern region of Puntland.

"Before, life was bearable - when people began firing at each other, you stood a chance of surviving by hiding against a wall or fleeing as soon as you heard gunshots," said Ali, who fled Mogadishu a month ago. 'But now explosions happen daily and you can be blown into tiny pieces without warning."

The 25-year-old man, dismayed that he can no longer go to university to study English, said men like him now lived in fear of arbitrary arrest in Mogadishu: "Each time an explosion happens, the government forces seal the neighbourhood and arrest all young men my age, sometimes even killing them," he told the UN refugee agency.

Feeling he had to escape, he headed north, hoping to reach the distant port city of Bossaso and board a smuggler's boat across the Red Sea to the Gulf countries. But the Puntland police refused to let him travel beyond Galkayo, where he survives on money sent by a relative.

Between February and May, over 400,000 civilians fled heavy fighting between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government and insurgents in Mogadishu. In that period 125,000 also returned, but the renewed insecurity has set another 6,000 on the roads in June and 21,000 in July.

The journey from Mogadishu to Galkayo is dangerous - travellers face extortion, robbery, and sometimes worse.

Halima, a single woman who fled with her five children a few weeks ago when explosions make work in the Mogadishu markets impossible, said she was raped en route. She survives in Galkayo by collecting garbage, earning the $5 she needs each month to rent a small hut of corrugated iron in a settlement for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of the town.

UNHCR opened an office in Galkayo in January and is responsible for coordinating humanitarian efforts on the ground. Up to 50,000 displaced persons have fled to Galkayo over the 16 past years, benefiting from the relative stability of the town despite inter-clan fighting.

"Galkayo is a strategic place for our interventions because it is located on the border between the Southern/Central part of the country and the more stable north-east region of Puntland", said Guillermo Bettocchi, the head of UNHCR Somalia. But the displaced face serious problems.

"The new arrivals join settlements, which are already crowded with internally displaced persons, further stretching the capacities of the local population to cope with the burden of hosting so many people," he said. There are limited resources in water, sanitation, education and health services.

Last week, UNHCR distributed non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans in south Galkayo. The assistance benefited 780 families of the Bantu minority, who are particularly vulnerable as they have no clan to protect them.

Amina, another recent arrival, said her family had fled Mogadishu because her husband, a tailor, could no longer reach the markets and support their young children. "We were able to leave but some of our relatives have remained stuck in Mogadishu's Medina neighbourhood, as it is impossible to flee safely from there."

Amina and her husband have built a small shelter in a settlement at Galkayo with her husband, but do not want to spend nights there because gangs roam the area. Instead they sleep at the house of relatives who had reached the town a few years ago.

"They are internally displaced persons themselves and they had difficulties coping with their daily life even before we arrived," she said. Her children are no longer in school because she cannot afford the fees.

Choukri, a widow, told UNHCR that many of the new arrivals are women and children without any male relative to provide protection. She talked of the danger of the settlements for the internally displaced, saying armed men had tried to abduct her sister one night.

"I fled Mogadishu seven years ago after being wounded," Choukri said, displaying her scarred leg and explaining she still has bullets in her body. "People flee Mogadishu once more and all we have to share with them is our poverty."

By Catherine Weibel in Galkayo, Somalia