Tens of thousands of people have fled Mogadishu in the past two months, as fighting in the Somali capital continues. Catherine Weibel is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the displacement of Somalis.
“UNHCR estimates that 57,000 people have left Mogadishu because of the violence since the beginning of February. And among them there are more than 12,000 who have fled during last week, which is when the fighting escalated and left at least 24 civilians dead and hundreds more were wounded,” she says.
The UN refugee agency knows where most have gone. “Weibel says, “Most of them went to the neighboring region of Lower Shabelle, which is close to Mogadishu. We estimate that over 32,000 of them have headed to the towns of Marka and Afgooye and the surrounding region. Many of them are very destitute. Some were looking for houses to rent, which of course caused the prices to soar. But most are very poor people and they just sat next to the road under trees, where they were lucky enough to find one.”
While most of the displaced have gone to Lower Shabelle, over 2,000 of them traveled north to Puntland. Others traveled to the town of Galkayo, some 700 kilometers northeast of Mogadishu. It’s a risky journey.
“It’s extremely long for the people of Mogadishu to reach Galkayo because it takes up to five days in a truck if they find one. And of course it’s a very dangerous journey because, as in many parts of Somalia…there are illegal roadblocks, which means that the people can be robbed. They can be killed. They can be raped. They can see their children be abducted. And most of the people who arrived in Galkayo are women and children, because for the men, who come from Mogadishu, it’s extremely dangerous because they would have to cross areas which are controlled by rival clans. And of course it puts them at risk of revenge killings,” Weibel says.
The UNHCR and other aid organizations currently have little or no access to south-central Somalia because of the insecurity and so are unable to help the displaced. Weibel says, “The only way of being able right now to help the people…would be that all the fighters put an end to violence.”