Somalia

Somalia: Thousands flee Mogadishu amid renewed violence

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MOGADISHU, Somalia, June 27 (UNHCR) - More than 3,500 people have fled the Somali capital Mogadishu this month amid an escalation of violence in the coastal city over the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, only 123,000 of the estimated 401,000 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 a network of partners.

Most of the returnees are from provinces close to the city and some are believed to be among those who have fled Mogadishu again in June. However, while more than 3,500 people have fled the city in June, an estimated 33,000 have returned there this month.

In another major new displacement development, UNHCR's local partners report that some 10,000 people have fled violence between rival clans in and around the southern coastal city of Kismayao. No more details were immediately available.

Most of those unwilling to return to Mogadishu cite continuing insecurity at a time when daily acts of violence are rising despite claims by the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that it has defeated insurgent forces. "These people say they will not come back until Mogadishu is completely safe", a UNHCR staff member reported from the capital.

The latest fighting has left many civilians dead and injured from rocket attacks, roadside bombs and crossfire.

The UNHCR staffer said that some of the civilians who recently returned to the capital are leaving it once more because of the insecurity. "Others leave their neighbourhood to move to another part of the city because of persistent bomb explosions close to their homes, especially in the north of the city. They fear being caught in skirmishes," he added.

The refugee agency workers said some people had come back to find their houses destroyed and had nowhere to go, while others living next to military bases had been told to evacuate their homes.

Some 250,000 Somalis who have resided on state property such as ministerial buildings, police stations or even electric power plants face the same threat. Some families had been living at such sites since fleeing their homes in 1991, when warlords overthrew President Mohammed Siad Barre before turning on each other.

The TFG has to date evicted 2,000 people in order to restore the buildings to public use. "These families are lost, they can no longer access the place where they used to live and sometimes their houses have been already destroyed by the authorities," said a local aid worker whose organization works with UNHCR.

He said these vulnerable people needed water, food and shelter. Many of them also needed to find employment so that they could support their families. The UN refugee agency has asked the TFG to halt the evictions and to help provide basic services and find alternative solutions for these displaced people.

In June, UNHCR has airlifted relief items from its stock 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.

But population movements are not limited to Mogadishu; UNHCR's local partners report further displacements of 4,000 people living along the nearby Shabelle River, which has overflowed and destroyed shelters and crops.