Somalia

Somalia: Displaced trickling back to areas of Mogadishu unaffected by fighting

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MOGADISHU, Somalia, May 11 (UNHCR) - People displaced by the recent fighting in Mogadishu are trickling back to areas of the Somali capital that were unaffected by the clashes, but UNHCR local staff said the city remains tense.

Civilians from areas affected by the fighting, and now reportedly patrolled by Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces and Ethiopian troops, are too scared to go home because they fear being caught in crossfire if fresh clashes erupt. Other residents have nowhere to return to because their houses were destroyed.

UNHCR believes that almost 4,000 people have gone back to Mogadishu over the past few days as the TGF declares victory over rebel militia forces and the fighting has died down. The estimate is based on data from a network of aid agencies.

This is an almost negligible amount compared to the almost 400,000 people who have fled the capital since early February - the largest exodus from Mogadishu since the mass displacement that followed the collapse of the central government in 1991.

"Even though fighting has ceased in Mogadishu, the situation remains very tense," said one UNHCR staff member, explaining the reluctance to return.

In addition, tens of thousands of people who used to live in public buildings cannot access their former homes because these have been requisitioned by the TFG, which plans to use them again. Many of the 250,000 people left internally displaced by earlier conflicts squatted in public buildings and the government plans are acting as a further deterrent to a large-scale return.

UNHCR is negotiating with the TFG to make sure that these people are relocated to other parts of Mogadishu where they can have access to basic services and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency continues to deliver assistance to people on the outskirts of the city and in nearby towns such as Afgooye, 30 kilometres to the west of Mogadishu. More than 40,000 people fled to the Afgooye area during March and April as heavy fighting raged in Mogadishu.

In recent weeks, UNHCR has distributed relief items such as plastic sheeting, mattresses, blankets and jerry cans for some 50,000 people in and around Afgooye. Relief items were airlifted from emergency stockpiles in Dubai.

Many families are still living under trees, exposed to the elements - particularly heavy rain. To assist them, UNHCR organized on Wednesday another distribution of relief items from stocks in Mogadishu, which have become accessible again. The distribution covered the needs of 3,200 people.

Other distributions are scheduled to take place in the coming days. Assistance is also being provided to poor, rural residents of Afgooye, a UNHCR staff member said, adding: "Many of these poor people live in the same places as the displaced families who fled Mogadishu and it is extremely difficult to distinguish between them, as they are all equally in need."

Many of the families who fled much further afield than Afgooye have said they want to wait a few weeks before travelling back to the capital to make sure that peace will last. Others simply cannot afford to pay for transport back to the city.

People who have returned to Mogadishu mainly lack food, water and medicine. UNHCR will be appealing for more funds shortly to help Somalis displaced within Somalia and in surrounding countries.