Renewed violence in Mogadishu sets thousands on the road once more
MOGADISHU, Somalia, July 20 (UNHCR) - The return of people to the Somalian capital has reversed, with almost 10,000 people leaving in the last week alone, according to figures compiled by the UN refugee agency and a network of partners.
In months of June and July, 20,000 people have returned to Mogadishu. But nearly 21,000 people have fled the daily violence during that period and the pace is rising. There are now more people fleeing the capital daily than people arriving - 10,000 have left in the last week
Only 125,000 of the estimated 400,000 civilians who fled the heavy fighting that raged in Mogadishu between February and May have returned to the capital, according to figures compiled by UNHCR and its partners.
The opening of the National Reconciliation Congress on July 14 has been followed by a series of deadly attacks targeting locations where the conference, which was suspended for several days, is taking place. The attacks have wounded and killed innocent bystanders, including children, and prompted scores of others to flee.
"People are leaving the parts of the city where violence intensified in recent days, such as Suqa Hoolaha, Mogadishu Stadium and Ali Kamin, as well as around the industrial street," a UNHCR staff member reported from Mogadishu.
"There is no single day when someone is not killed in that city," a resident of Mogadishu told one of UNHCR's local partners. "Because of the insecurity, we had to stop businesses as many of us work in the markets, which have become extremely dangerous since bombs are being detonated there almost daily."
People suffer high levels of stress, as reported by a local aid worker whose organization works with the UN refugee agency: "At any moment, a tragedy might happen to you," he explained. "Even at night there is no respite as despite the curfew, you can hear automatic gun fire as well as explosions."
While some families have come back to Mogadishu over the past weeks, hoping the violence would diminish, many are considering leaving once more. Attacks launched by anti-government elements wound and kill civilians daily, while the counter-attacks made by forces of the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) often result in civilian deaths.
The prospect of still another round of heavy fighting has set many civilians on the road once more. Many families leave the city and head toward the neighbouring provinces of the Shabelles, while some continue their journey until they reach cities such as Baidoa, Merca or as far away as Galkayo in the distant northern area of Puntland.
Communities living in the provinces around Mogadishu worry at the prospect of having to cope with even more people displaced from the capital.
"Our area has already become overpopulated with families who had fled in March and April and have not gone back," an elder living in a village in Middle Shabelle told a UNHCR local partner.
He explained that some children and old people had died of hunger or illnesses, the worst disaster being the water-borne diseases spread from the use of unclean water. "We are poor people and these displaced families add another burden on us as we do not have the capacity to accommodate them," he added.
Some families cannot even afford to flee Mogadishu as they are too poor to pay for transportation. Such is the case for many of the 3,000 internally displaced persons who have been evicted by the authorities from public buildings where they used to live, sometimes for as long as 16 years.
"The remaining settlements are full and there seems to be no other safe public land available, so they have no option other than roaming the streets homeless," a UNHCR local partner reported.
The United Nations has asked the TFG to halt the evictions and to help provide basic services and find alternative solutions for these displaced people.
Last month, UNHCR airlifted relief items from its stockpile in Dubai to Mogadishu. This assistance, which includes blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans, and kitchen sets, will be delivered to the most vulnerable people in the city.