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Displaced Somalis begin returning to Mogadishu

Briefing notes

Displaced Somalis begin returning to Mogadishu

30 January 2009

For the first time in two years, there are signs that Somalis displaced in some of the worst fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, are beginning to return to their devastated neighbourhoods.

Over 16,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who had fled to various parts of Somalia have returned to Yaaqshiid, Haliwaa and Wardhiigley in the last two weeks, following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Mogadishu. The three western districts were scenes of some of the worst violence and human rights abuses witnessed in Mogadishu some months ago. UNHCR's local partners say that the returnees are families who intend to stay for good in the city, and not simply relatives who have gone in advance to assess the situation or check on their properties.

Despite the returns, the security situation in the city remains extremely volatile. Only this week, some 10,000 civilians fled from Dharkenley and Wadajir districts in north-east Mogadishu to escape advancing Islamist militia, who wanted to seize control of the neighbourhood. Most of the displaced have moved to other neighbourhoods within Mogadishu or to the outskirts of the city.

Thousands of the city's residents who remain in IDP sites outside Mogadishu are reluctant or fearful of returning to their homes. Some 300,000 of them live in makeshift shelters in the Afgooye area, some 30 km west of Mogadishu. The area, which extends between Mogadishu and Afgooye, has the unenviable record of being the largest concentration of IDPs in the world today.

The IDPs are deterred from returning by lack of water, sanitation and health services, and the threat of renewed fighting in Mogadishu. Some have seen their houses destroyed or pillaged, and are wary of the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance littering the capital. Others are victims of previous conflicts, uprooted from IDP settlements within Mogadishu and have no homes to return to.

An estimated 1 million Somalis have fled Mogadishu since February 2007, when fighting erupted between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers and insurgents. The total number of Somalis displaced within their own country is a staggering 1.3 million.

Last year, some 100,000 Somalis sought refuge in neighbouring countries.