KENYA-SOMALIA: Thousands flee Mogadishu "death trap"
Refugees at a reception centre in Liboi, on the Kenya-Somalia border: Liboi residents estimate that 300 to 400 Somali families, who fled violence in Mogadishu, are waiting to be registered as refugees (file photo)
NAIROBI, 22 March 2010 (IRIN) - Clashes between government troops and Islamist insurgents have displaced more than 55,000 people from Mogadishu since the beginning of February, with many of them heading out of Somalia to neighbouring Kenya, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
In the border town of Liboi, people told IRIN by phone that 300 to 400 Somali families were waiting there to be registered as refugees. In all, almost 570,000 Somalis are refugees and most of them live in camps in Kenya.
"Staying in Mogadishu now is like a death sentence: you are not safe; your neighbour is not safe," Hawo Sheiikh Ali, one of the refugees, told IRIN on 22 March.
She left Mogadishu at the end of February after a mortar shell killed 15 people in her Wardhigley neighbourhood.
"I was selling tea when it hit and all of a sudden I could not see anything. By the time the dust settled 10 young boys were dead," Ali said. "I don't know how I survived but I did and I left. I also lost two of my sons, aged 10 and 11; we got separated and up to now I don’t know where they are."
Ali said she had never considered becoming a refugee, but now felt she had no choice.
Another reason for the exodus from the Somali capital is an announcement by the country’s Transitional Federal Government that it would soon mount a major offensive against insurgent groups including al-Shabab.
Ali Bashe Haji, a Somali journalist in Liboi, said: "I came here [Liboi] with my family and another 70 families from Mogadishu; many more people will be leaving."
Haji said it took his group 15 days to get to Liboi as they took a longer route, towards Bulo Hawo, another border town. "We wanted to avoid Kismayo and Dobley [on the most direct and shorter route] for fear of being detained or not allowed to proceed."
Kismayo and Dobley are under the control of Al-Shabab.
When Haji's group arrived in Bulo Hawo and tried to cross into Kenya, they were denied entry and directed to Liboi, some 600km southwest, where most Somali refugees enter Kenya.
Haji said most of the would-be refugees had fled Mogadishu and surrounding areas. “There are no longer safe areas [in Mogadishu]; you are a target no matter what area you are in," he said.
Many more families were likely to arrive soon. "Many of my neighbours and friends were planning to leave as soon as they could get enough money for the trip," he said.
“They are in a terrible condition when they arrive but people are providing water and some food; Kenyan officials are also helping them," one Liboi resident told IRIN.
He said many families were continuing to arrive "almost daily".