Many among the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Somalia appear to be in no rush to return to the capital, Mogadishu. Aid agencies say Somalis apparently are taking a wait-and-see attitude as to whether the peace will hold in the city. It’s estimated more than 360,000 people left Mogadishu since early February.
Catherine Weibel is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, and has just visited Somalia. From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about her trip to some areas where the displaced have fled.
“I went to Baidoa, which is a city about 200 kilometers from Mogadishu, and to Galkayo, which is 700 kilometers from Mogadishu, in the north of the country. And those towns have been receiving people who had fled Mogadishu during the heavy fighting,” she says.
Asked about the condition of the displaced people she saw, Weibel says, “Most of them live in very difficult conditions. I have visited some settlements of displaced people…and they have built some kind of very small shelters with wooden sticks. And they have put some kind of rags all over the shelter. But very often they don’t even have enough rags to cover the entire shelter.
“And the women I talked to said they were very afraid for their children because it’s raining right now…and they have no plastic sheeting to protect their children from the rain. And I went inside the shelters. They have nothing.”
With an extended period of relative calm in Mogadishu, there have been reports that some are returning to the city, but not in large numbers. Weibel says, “We have reports that some people are slowly going back to Mogadishu, but the people who are in cities…far from the capital, like Baidoa and Galkayo, want to wait before going back. I talked to a woman who has seven children, and she was saying she doesn’t want to go back for the moment because even if the authorities have been saying it’s safe now, she said to me it’s only words. I don’t trust them.”
The rainy seasons has brought concerns about unsafe water. Weibel says many children are suffering from diarrhea.