Record number of displaced at 1.5 million

The number of conflict- and drought-displaced Somalis has reached 1.55 million, despite a drop in the past two months in the rate of displacement from the capital, Mogadishu, according to the UN.

Roberta Russo, a spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told IRIN on 7 September that hundreds of families were still fleeing the city, despite a significant drop since the beginning of July, with almost 95,000 leaving all areas “in the last two months”; 77,000 of whom were from Mogadishu.

The UN estimates that up to 3.8 million Somalis, almost half the population, urgently need humanitarian aid.

“The displaced people are among the most affected by the crisis,” Russo said.

The displaced, most of whom are women and children, are living in desperate conditions, she said.

The main reason for their flight is insecurity, although drought and the lack of livelihoods are also cited as causes, Russo added.

Ali Sheikh Yassin, the deputy chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organization, told IRIN that people were continuing to flee Mogadishu, “because the insecurity is increasing, not decreasing. As we speak, people are leaving and I am sure many more will join them. There is nothing to stay for. No peace and no hope for peace.”

He said indications were that the violence - pitting government forces and African Union peacekeeping troops (AMISOM) against two insurgent groups, Al-Shabab and Hisbul-Islami - would get worse.

“All sides are preparing for what they think is a final battle but nothing is ever final in Somalia,” Yassin said.

He said the main losers in any such encounter would be civilians. “Neither side cares what happens to them so the displacement will probably go much higher in the next few months.”

Photo: ReliefWeb

According to Jowahir Ilmi, head of Somali Women Concern (SWC), a local NGO, the displaced from Mogadishu are still going to the Afgoye [30km south of Mogadishu] area.

"Every day we are registering new arrivals. Unfortunately, even the month of Ramadan has not led to a truce."

The fighting has been going on in Mogadishu since Ethiopian troops withdrew from the country in December 2008, leading to thousands of deaths and injuries as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands from Mogadishu and parts of southern and central Somalia.

Yassin said the fighting was spreading beyond Mogadishu.

“In the past we had displaced from Mogadishu only but almost every town in parts of central Somalia is being touched by the violence," he said. "From Jowhar [south central] to Harardhere [to the northeast] people are being displaced by violence.”

He said the current drought was another factor. More and more drought-displaced pastoralists were heading into towns in search of help after losing all their livestock, he said. “The only problem this time is the town’s people are as badly off as they are, so cannot help them,” Yassin added.

He urged donor agencies to reach out to the displaced in remote and often inaccessible areas.

Many of the humanitarian agencies, however, lacked access to those who need their help.

“Access is still very limited due to insecurity in the areas hosting the majority of the displaced," said Russo.