As more people flee the Somali capital, Mogadishu, because of the fighting, the UN refugee agency is distributing more aid outside of the city.
Catherine Weibel is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the latest relief operation.
“Since yesterday (Thursday) the UNHCR has begun distributing relief supplies to about 24,000 people who are in Afgooye. This is a small town, which is about 30 kilometers west of Mogadishu. And this is the town where most people who fled the capital are going. And there are many people who are leaving the capital once more because there was an increase in fighting over the past weeks,” she says.
While the UN agency is aiding some 24,000 people in Afgooye in its latest operation, the number of people who’ve fled the capital is larger than that. Weibel says, “About 40,000 people at least, residents of Mogadishu, have fled to Afgooye. Some have already received help from UNHCR in the past month. But the people who have left more recently have not had any aid and they need plastic sheeting so they can kind of (have) small shelters to protect their family from the weather. This is why we have a new distribution.”
The UNHCR estimates 65,000 people have left Mogadishu since June. Before that, there were already some 400,000 people who had left earlier. Some have returned, but generally not to the northern part of the city, where most of the violence occurs. Mogadishu is now a divided city.
“When we talk to our staff who are living in Mogadishu (they say) that the city has been divided in two. In the northern part, where most of the fighting between the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) forces and the insurgents has taken place, have become completely empty. People don’t want to live there anymore because it’s too dangerous and there is almost no economic life left,” she says.
The Bakara market, once one of the biggest in east Africa, “is barely functioning,” according to the UNHCR, “and is regularly closed to vehicles because of fighting, assassinations and killings due to robbery.” Smaller markets have opened in southern Mogadishu, but residents fear the fighting will eventually come there.