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Somalia: UNHCR responds to exodus from Mogadishu

Briefing notes

Somalia: UNHCR responds to exodus from Mogadishu

13 November 2007

UNHCR is sending more aid supplies to thousands of displaced Somalis as the exodus from Mogadishu to outlying areas continues amid ongoing fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents in the strife-torn capital.

Over the last two weeks, an estimated 173,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have fled from Mogadishu - nearly 90,000 of them to nearby Afgooye, some 30 km to the west. Another 33,000 have been displaced to various other places around Mogadishu, while thousands more have gone to other locations in Lower Shabelle. This morning, staff reported that private trucks were still evacuating families from Mogadishu to Afgooye, which is struggling to cope with more than 150,000 IDPs who have fled there since the beginning of this year.

Yesterday, UNHCR emptied its Mogadishu warehouse of the last remaining stocks of aid supplies - enough for 2,500 families - and has sent them by truck to the Afgooye area for a planned distribution tomorrow. The drivers, however, are complaining of difficulties at checkpoints, where soldiers are demanding payments of up to $300 before letting the aid through.

The planned distribution tomorrow, in co-ordination with various NGOs who are also trying to deliver other aid supplies, will focus on Lafoole near Afgooye, where there are 15 settlements hosting thousands of IDPs. Partner NGOs today were in the settlements providing tokens to heads of families, who will then exchange the tokens tomorrow for aid supplies.

The needs in the Afgooye area remain immense, however. People can no longer find space for shelter around the town itself. Many families are simply living under trees. Although several NGOs are trucking water to the sites, it's not enough to meet demand. There are long queues around water trucks and some IDPs report having to wait in line for up to six hours for 20 litres of water.

Last week, a UN inter-agency team which travelled to Afgooye found thousands of newly displaced Somalis living in extremely harsh conditions. Fifteen new makeshift settlements had mushroomed along the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye, bringing to 60 the total number of spontaneous camps lining the route.

In Mogadishu itself, Ethiopian troops are continuing with their hunt for insurgents and weapons, mainly in and around the Bakara market - Mogadishu's main trading centre. Yesterday, the house-to-house search and street patrols for insurgents expanded to six of the city's 16 districts, trapping civilians in some of these areas. All roads leading to districts such as Hawlwadaag, Hodon and Wardigle and Bakara market in south Mogadishu were sealed off by Ethiopian troops. Other areas such as Dayniile, Yakhshiid and Huriwaa to the north were also affected, restricting the movement of civilians. Residents in some of the areas said soldiers had been posted on rooftops.

A woman trapped in her home in the Hodon district said by phone that there were soldiers outside her house. She said she and her children had been ordered to stay indoors although they had no food, water or electricity. Soldiers told her that anyone moving about during the search would be shot on sight. In other parts of the city, those who could leave their homes fled on foot or using donkey carts or wheelbarrows. There was little vehicle traffic due to the closing off of many major roads leading into and out of the city.

This morning, there were reports that some parts of Bakara market have re-opened, but roads leading to and from the area remain sealed off.

The total number of IDPs in Somalia has risen to 850,000. This figure includes some 450,000 who have been displaced by conflict in Mogadishu since February 2007.