A million Somalis have fled their homes

The number of Somalis uprooted by fighting in their own country has hit a “staggering” one million, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 600 000 people are believed to have fled Somalia’s lawless capital, Mogadishu, since February, when clashes pitting allied Somali-Ethiopian troops against suspected Islamist insurgents started to escalate.

Nearly 200 000 people have streamed out of Mogadishu in the past two weeks alone, emptying entire neighbourhoods, the UNHCR said in a statement.

The numbers of displaced persons this year are in addition to 400 000 forced to flee their homes because of previous fighting.

The Horn of Africa country has been in a state of anarchy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The latest conflict flared when Islamist leaders took control of various towns in southern Somalia last year before being ousted in January by government soldiers and their Ethiopian allies.

The interim government has since faced an Islamist insurgency, featuring roadside bombings and political killings, that has all but thwarted its attempts to restore central rule.

Civilians typically bear the brunt of the violence.

The UNHCR said the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in more than 60 makeshift settlements along the 30km stretch of road linking Mogadishu to Afgoye has soared to nearly 200 000—a 50% increase in the past two weeks.

“Families continue to lack proper shelter and consistently resort to using any material—mostly plastic bags and rags—to patch up their tukuls—flimsy, dome-shaped shelters,” the UNHCR said.

“Although IDPs express confidence in security in the Afgoye area, we are increasingly worried about security incidents there in the last several days,” it said.

The UNHCR said an aid worker was killed on Friday after she was hit by a stray bullet while distributing supplies. On Sunday, an explosion in Afgoye town killed six people, it added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opposes deploying UN peacekeeping troops to Somalia again, instead suggesting a robust multinational force or a coalition of volunteer nations to help restore security.
The UN authorised the African Union to send an 8 000-strong peacekeeping force to Somalia in February to calm the country, but only 1 800 troops from Uganda are on the ground.

“Somalia has been a forgotten emergency for so many years,” said Eric LaRoche, head of the United Nations aid effort in Somalia. Fewer “people are affected than in Darfur, but the crisis is more severe”.

Aid agencies have had trouble raising funds for Darfur as well as Somalia, and aid workers in both places have been targeted by fighters.—Reuters, Sapa-AP

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