UNHCR alarmed as a fortnight of fighting leaves 230 dead in Mogadishu
GENEVA, September 7 (UNHCR) - UNHCR said Tuesday it was alarmed by the further deterioration in the security situation in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, where fighting between government forces and the Al-Shabaab militia has left more than 230 civilians dead and at least 400 wounded in the past fortnight.
UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, added that 23,000 people were displaced by the conflict during the same period. "So far this year over 200,000 civilians are estimated to have fled their homes," she told journalists in Geneva.
"People who have been able to reach northern Somalia and neighbouring countries are mostly arriving on foot and by small buses and travelling without shelter. They tell our staff that the streets of Mogadishu are completely deserted and that people are too afraid to leave their houses," Fleming said. "In these dangerous and difficult conditions, aid distributions are becoming rare and those who venture out are risking their lives."
Making matters worse is that fleeing Mogadishu has become more dangerous. People are giving away their remaining possessions for a seat on a bus out of the city. As they leave the city they face new risks and difficulties en route to Somalia's Puntland in the north or Ethiopia and Kenya to the west and south.
With some 7,300 people having reached Yemen by boat this year, the number of Somali arrivals has halved in comparison to the same period last year. Refugees say they have had to pass numerous checkpoints manned by armed groups in Somalia before reaching the towns and villages along Somalia's Gulf of Aden coast, where they board smugglers' boats.
"Meanwhile in Kenya, some 37,000 Somali refugees have arrived so far this year. This is down by roughly a third in comparison to the first eight months of 2009," Fleming said. However, UNHCR registered 6,500 new Somali refugees in August - the highest monthly total since June last year.
Those who make it to the Kenyan border and register at the Dadaab refugee complex say that many people are staying in makeshift camps for internally displaced people in Somalia as they fear forced recruitment and abuse by militias operating in southern Somalia. In addition, when there is transport, many cannot afford the trip to the border. In many areas, heavy rains have also made roads impassable.
Ethiopia is the only country in the region showing a continuing increase in the rate of Somali arrivals. More than 20,000 Somalis have sought safety and shelter there this year, bringing the total Somali refugee population to almost 76,000. Most have either family or clan links in this neighbouring country.
Overall, almost 68,000 Somalis have fled this year to countries in the region. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia generates the largest number of refugees in the world. As of the end of August, there were more than 614,000 Somali refugees and over 1.4 million displaced within the country. The collapse of the state, spiraling violence and anarchy, compounded by poverty, has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and unacceptable suffering of the civilian population.