Somalia: Mogadishu violence sets off new wave of displacement
A weekend of violence in Mogadishu has set off another wave of displacement from the war-torn capital, sending thousands more Somalis from their homes. Aid workers describe this latest round of fighting as the worst in months. This morning, more people were preparing to flee Mogadishu, even though the situation seemed to have calmed down after fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents engulfed the city. But as large numbers of people packed their belongings to leave Mogadishu, some families told UNHCR staff that they felt lost not knowing whether to stay in their homes, relocate to another part of the city, or leave the city altogether.
Hundreds of families in several neighbourhoods in areas close to the city's Bakara market - Mogadishu's major trading centre - were loading trucks, buses and donkey carts with household items. According to some accounts, residents had been told by city officials to vacate the four districts close to the market, as security operations were going to take place.
Many of those preparing to leave the capital expressed fear that this latest round of violence could escalate to major battles in the city. They underlined that insurgents had begun attacking police stations and military bases in broad daylight, and that the scale of fighting had reached a higher military level. Most previous attacks were carried out at night and with lighter weapons. Some of the residents said they feared being caught in more fighting. They complained that Ethiopian troops were firing indiscriminately on insurgents and civilians, as there was little to differentiate the two. The insurgents wear no uniforms.
Most of those leaving Mogadishu were heading to the town of Afgooye, which is already struggling to cope with an earlier influx of up to 100,000 people who fled there from Mogadishu earlier this year. Afgooye is 30 km west of Mogadishu. Those making their way to Afgooye planned to join relatives who already have shelter in the crowded settlements that have spread along the road linking the town and Mogadishu.
In addition to the latest round of fighting, many said they had lost their source of livelihood after the total closure of the sprawling Bakara market over the weekend. Others said there were no food supplies coming into the city as the main roads had also been closed for days, blocking trucks which bring supplies from the port to the market.
UNHCR has delivered aid to 78,000 people in Afgooye this year, and is prepared to carry out more distributions. The Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) said in May that insurgents had been ousted after three months of fighting that had led to nearly 400,000 civilians leaving the volatile capital. Of those 400,000, an estimated 125,000 returned to the city. But renewed violence sparked a second wave of departures in June, with an estimated 90,000 people fleeing their homes. Most of them remain outside the city.