Thousands of people who fled insecurity and fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu have returned to the city since the August 2011 departure of Al-Shabab insurgents, according to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).
“Our data shows that there have been a total of almost 63,000 returns to Mogadishu. Those returning to Mogadishu since August 2011 mostly comprise IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] returns after the expansion of government control of Mogadishu,” Andreas Needham, UNHCR Somalia spokesman, told IRIN.
While there is no official total population figure for Mogadishu, a new census project is underway in conjunction with several UN agencies, said Needham.
On a visit to the city, IRIN found that some of the returnees were back in their homes, having rebuilt them; others were in temporary shelters in the grounds of their still-ruined residences; others still were in disused government buildings.
Some have returned to find their homes occupied by strangers.
"We fled during the first war in Mogadishu in 1991. We went to Sudan, but later when we returned home, we couldn't go to our house because the people who lived in it did not agree to leave," said Faisa Hassan Ali, a mother of 10 who now lives with her children in a friend’s room in the Suqa Xoolaha area of Mogadishu.
"We went to the government and they told us to wait… We are waiting to get back our home."
According to Mogadishu local authorities, at least 80 percent of the properties squatted during the war have been restored to their rightful owners.
The local authorities are standing by to help people reclaim their properties, said Warsame Mohamed Hassan, also known as Jodah, Mogadishu's deputy mayor in charge of security.
Meanwhile, the northern Mogadishu districts of Karan, Shibis and Bondhere, which had previously been empty because of fighting, are now bustling.
Asha Abdillahi Nur, a mother of seven, is among the recent returnees.
"We ran away from Mogadishu in 2006 during the war between Ethiopian forces and [the then ruling Al-Shabab precursor] Union of Islamic Courts, to Elasha Biyaha [in the outskirts of Mogadishu]. We built a house there, but in late May, AMISOM/TFG [African Union Mission to Somalia and Transitional Federal Government] forces clashed with Al-Shabab in Elasha Biyaha and we fled back to Mogadishu... and rented a house," she said.
IDPs on the move
According to an April 2012 (UNHCR) report, some 14,000 IDPs have returned from the Afgoye corridor, a 30-km-long stretch of road.
At the height of the displacement crisis in 2010 the Afgoye corridor was home to an estimated 400,000 Mogadishu residents, according to a 22 June UNHCR statement, with an estimated 120,000 IDPs still living there as of May. Most of the Afgoye IDPs fled fighting in Mogadishu between 2007 and 2010.
While large-scale fighting ended in the city in August 2011, other factors - the declaration of famine in July 2011, insecurity in the Afgoye corridor, as well as the scale-up of humanitarian assistance in Mogadishu - have prompted people to return, says UNHCR.
A July UNHCR report on IDP population estimates said there were about 184,000 IDPs in Mogadishu, with the caveat that: “Continuing insecurity in Somalia, multiple displacements and lack of access, make efforts to estimate the IDP population extremely challenging.”
Lack of skilled labour
Amid renewed hope, new buildings are coming up in Mogadishu although there is a lack of adequate skilled labour - most masons having fled to places like Gal-Mudug, Puntland, Somaliland and Djibouti.
To fill the gap, the TFG is calling for the setting up of vocational training schools. "We believe that only 10,000 skilled workers returned to Mogadishu [in addition to] 20,000 who were in the town during the war. But due to the high demand in the town, these numbers are not enough," said Aweys Sheikh Hadaad, director-general of the Ministry of Labour, Sports and Social Affairs.
"These schools can contribute [to] the security of the town. For example, we believe 90 percent of people are unemployed.” Security could be improved by giving these people jobs or training, he added.
*This report was amended on 19 July.