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One and a Half Million Somalis Now Displaced

In Somalia, the number of displaced people is now estimated to be more than one and a half million. The latest figure comes from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.

In Nairobi, UNHCR spokesperson Roberta Russo says, "The number increased…mainly because of the insecurity and the fighting that has been in Mogadishu that started in May and displaced over a quarter of a million people."

Slow down, speed up

Earlier this year, the agency reported a slowdown in the exodus from the capital.

"We had a very high rate of displacement during May and June. And the rate decreased during July and August. But still the numbers are quite high because since the first of July…we had 95,000 people who got displaced from their homes. And out of this, 77,000 were displaced from Mogadishu," she says.

Most of the population of Mogadishu is now believed to have fled the city, most to the Afgooye corridor, about 30 kilometers from the city.

"It's home at the moment to 524,000 internally displaced people."

Conditions are appalling

"One of the main reasons is that the humanitarian agencies are finding it very difficult to reach out to these people, to access them, because of the insecurity," she says.

In Afgooye, there's a lack of clean water, medical facilities, sanitation and latrines.

"Basically, they need everything," she says.

Although many know conditions are poor in Afgooye, it remains the main destination of the displaced from Mogadishu.

"Many people don't have the money and the opportunity to flee to further places. We're seeing that some people are even displaced from their homes in Mogadishu, but they're settling in other areas of the capital city, which are relatively safer. These are the most desperate people, who can't get money to pay their transport,' she says.

Others trying to cross the border

"We're seeing more and more that the Somalis fleeing from Mogadishu are trying to…find refuge in Kenya mainly but also a high number into Yemen and Ethiopia," she says.

However to get to Yemen, many Somalis and Ethiopian refugees hire smugglers to try to sneak them across the Gulf of Aden. Many drown in the attempt, often because the smugglers throw them overboard.

"Every year around the month of Ramadan the rate of people trying to cross into Yemen increases. And now, we have already over 38,000 people who crossed into Yemen since the beginning of the year," she says.

Too many people, too little space

Many Somalis are already refugees in Kenya. And those who manage to cross the border are often sent to the Dadaab refugee complex.

Russo calls conditions there worrying.

"There is not enough land where the new arrivals can settle. So, Dadaab…a camp designed to host a few thousand people, is now home to almost 300,000 refugees. So all the basic facilities are not enough to serve such a high population," she says.

Since many of the new arrivals are not given land to set up shelter, they move in with other Somali families. As a result, the refugee agency is unable to get an accurate registration, which is needed to provide humanitarian assistance.