The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said thousands of residents of the Somali port city of Kismayo have fled into neighboring areas, as the threat of violence continued to hang over the city now under the control of Somali and Kenyan troops.
The force, part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, officially entered Kismayo on October 2nd, as al-Shabab militants had retreated from the town, their last stronghold.
The UNHCR says the majority of the displaced headed to districts surrounding Kismayo, including the Jilib and Jamame districts. Others travelled to the Mogadishu and Dadaab refugee camps.
“The situation in Kismayo at the moment is that displacement has drastically reduced since the peak we saw last week on the 27th. In the first couple of days in October, we’ve seen less than 100 people leave Kismayo. That compares with 14,000 people who left Kismayo throughout the whole of September,” explained Andy Needham, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Nairobi. He has been monitoring the situation of the thousands who are now displaced.
He said the peak of the exodus was on September 27th, the day before the offensive began in the morning, and may be linked to a distribution of flyers announcing the possibility of military activities. Needham said the UNHCR believes the flyers were the trigger for people to leave their homes and seek safety.
Needham said a smaller displacement of residents was seen over the past weekend.
“The main reason for that, we hear from our partners on the ground, was that services were still all available in Kismayo. There was still phone connectivity. There was still electricity. We believe people decided to stay in their houses and stay out of trouble,” said Needham.
He also said those on the ground reported the two main routes out of the city had buildups of military personnel, which made people want to stay in town.
Needham said the last few days have been calm in Kismayo, and there are unconfirmed reports of very small numbers of people returning home to the city. To listen to the full interview between Kim Lewis and Andy Needham, click on audio.