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Out of Hundreds of Thousands Displaced, Few Somalis Returning to Mogadishu

UN officials say relatively few displaced people in Somalia have been willing or able to return to Mogadishu. That, despite relative calm in recent weeks. Hundreds of thousands fled the city beginning in early February due to fighting between Ethiopian-backed transitional government forces and the Union of Islamic Courts.

Catherine Weibel is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. From Nairobi, she gave VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua an update on the displaced Somalis.

“There would be about 4,000 people who have gone back to Mogadishu so far, which is a very small number compared to the almost 400,000 people who have fled the capital since February. According to our staff, who is in Mogadishu right now, the people are coming back to Mogadishu very, very slowly.

“First, because those who come back sometimes are not sure they will find their house intact. And then because all the people who were living in parts of the city, which were involved in fighting, are not coming back, so far…. It seems that people don’t want to go back for the moment because there are still soldiers of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in these neighborhoods. And they are very afraid that if the fighting resumes they might be cause in the crossfire,” Weibel says.

Before fleeing the city, many of the displaced had been living for many years in former public buildings, ministries and police stations.

“Since about 16 years, many of the people who were living in Mogadishu, about 250,000 people were living in these former public government buildings because they had to flee the countryside when the war was raging there to go and try to find shelter in Mogadishu itself,” Weibel says.

Now, with the buildings mostly empty, the TFG wants to take them over for official use and have told those living there to leave. UNHCR is negotiating with the TFG to find those displaced some land. The agency has helped about 50,000 people, who have fled to Afgooye, which is about 30 kilometers from Mogadishu. Many young people are suffering from water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea.