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SOMALIA: Conditions worsen in camps as thousands more flee Mogadishu

MOGADISHU, 13 August 2007 (IRIN) - Inside her new home, a makeshift shelter in the Arbis camp outside the Somali capital of Mogadishu, Buno Ali, 17, held the youngest of her three children, a three-week-old baby girl.

"I gave birth to her in this shack," she said. "I cannot afford to buy milk for her and feed the other children. At night they cannot sleep because of extreme cold and rain. We are all awake the whole night when it rains.

"I have nothing to give them and I do not know where their father fled to," she explained.

Ali's family is one of hundreds who have sought refuge in the camps outside the city to escape the recent fighting in Mogadishu.

Arbis, 23km west of the capital, was already overflowing with thousands of other displaced families when Ali arrived. Many of them cannot afford to build the most basic shelters.

Fardosa Abdullahi, 30, sold vegetables near the SOS Children's Home in north Mogadishu.

"I fled from SOS on Friday [August 3]," the mother of four told IRIN. "I was among so many families who ran away following heavy fighting and shelling around SOS and the livestock market. We are more secure here but lack food and shelter."

Peace is key

Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) say they would only go back to Mogadishu if the city becomes peaceful.

Most of them fled renewed fighting between the Ethiopian-backed government and insurgents in the Islamist strongholds of north Mogadishu – a situation that has steadily escalated since the Somali transitional government established itself in January after the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) was ousted.

Between June and July, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about 27,000 people left their homes due to fresh violence in the city.

Observers say the conflict has escalated since a national reconciliation conference began in Mogadishu on 15 July.

The conference, which is being attended by representatives from Somalia's various clans, is the latest effort to forge a way forward for the war-torn Horn of Africa country.

Despite heightened security, insurgents have continued daily attacks in the capital. On 9 August, armed opponents of the transitional government attacked five police stations overnight before being warded off.

A senior police officer, who asked not to be named, said the raid could have been prompted by an ongoing crackdown on suspected anti-government elements, in which dozens of suspected insurgents have been arrested over the past two weeks.

Last week, Abdullahi Hassan Barise, the Mogadishu police chief, said 300 more police would be deployed to prevent militias from carrying out attacks in the city.

But according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Ethiopian, Somali and insurgent forces are all responsible for violations of the laws of war in Mogadishu and causing massive suffering for the civilian population.

In the report, ‘Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu’, released on 13 August, HRW said fighting in March and April resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of 400,000 people.

"The warring parties have all shown criminal disregard for the well-being of the civilian population of Mogadishu," said Ken Roth, HRW executive director.

IDPs desperate for help

In Arbis, IDPs say they have experienced serious water shortages and had only one toilet for over 200 people to share – a similar situation in many camps on the busy road linking Mogadishu to Afgoye, an agricultural settlement 30km west.

Jawahir Ahmed Elmi, a local philanthropist who left Mogadishu in March during the worst fighting, said she has been helping camp arrivals adapt to their new homes.

"I normally give them everything I can from utensils, to food and bedding but I can no longer offer new arrivals anything," she said. "I have helped some 1,170 people to settle here. What they really need is shelter, water, food and education for their children."

She added: "Water is the most essential commodity a human being needs. I urge aid agencies to come to our rescue before children and the elderly start dying of thirst.

"This is the rainy season and most of the refugees don’t have plastic sheets to cover their shacks. Life is becoming unbearable for these people. The world should urgently do something."

Gh/eo/sr

[ENDS]

Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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