28 June 2007

Somalia: Thousands Flee Mogadishu Amid Renewed Violence, UN Reports

New York — Escalating violence in the Somali capital of Mogadishu this month has forced more than 3,500 people to flee in recent weeks, the United Nations refugee agency has reported.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also reported that 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, citing to figures compiled by the agency and its partners.

Even as people continue leave Mogadishu, they are returning at nearly a tenfold rate. UNHCR said that while more than 3,500 people fled the city in June, an estimated 33,000 returned there in the same period.

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.

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 agency said.

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.

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.

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