Sophie: "I have to continue for the children’s sake"

In September, Sophie (not her real name) fled fighting in Mogadishu to seek shelter in a camp in Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

Hargeisa, 1,500km north of Mogadishu, is home to thousands of displaced people from south-central Somalia. Sophie, 27, came to the city with her husband and three children, aged between 18 months and eight years, but her 10-year-old son was lost on the journey. She and other IDP women were robbed and raped. She spoke about her plight to IRIN on 21 October:

"We used to live in Manapolio [north Mogadishu]. The area suffered occasional bombardment but it was not as bad as most places in Mogadishu. In the past two to three months, things took a turn for the worse. We were becoming a battleground. It seemed there was not a day without fighting.

"We had a shop which was run by my husband and I had a stall in the market. We were not rich but we had enough to feed our family.

"The area got to the point where no one was safe and looting and rape became normal. Many houses were destroyed. One night, our neighbour's house was totally destroyed and no one survived. In the blink of an eye the entire family was dead.

"Our house was partially destroyed but we escaped unhurt. That morning we decided to leave with other families and take our children to some place safe.

"We had heard that many people were going north and had found peace and security there, so we also decided to go there.

"The journey was long; it took more than nine days. I lost my boy and we were robbed of everything we had.

"The second time they [bandits] took us away from the main road and into the bush. They told the men to lie down and then took the women they thought looked good and young and raped us; five other women and myself.

"Our husbands heard our cries but could do nothing. They were being held at gunpoint. It was the only time I wished I had never left Mogadishu.

"By the time we reached Hargeisa we had nothing. The people here [in Hargeisa] have been very kind. In the camp the residents let us share their dwellings.

“Since the incident [rape] my husband has not been the same. I am still searching for my boy and hope to find him. It is very hard but what can I do? I have to continue for the sake of the other children. It is the only thing that is keeping me going and makes me forget, at least for a while, what I went through.

"In Hargeisa I am not worried about bombs and killings and someone coming into my house to hurt me or my family. We have peace and security - something we did not have in Mogadishu. I thank God for that despite all my problems."

ah/mw