The United Nations refugee agency said today there are signs that, for the first time in two years, Somalis displaced by fighting in Mogadishu are beginning to return to their devastated neighbourhoods, but warned that the situation in the capital remains very volatile.
Over 16,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had fled to various parts of Somalia have returned to Yaaqshiid, Haliwaa and Wardhiigley in the last two weeks, following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Mogadishu, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The three western districts were scenes of some of the worst violence and human rights abuses witnessed in Mogadishu some months ago.
UNHCR’s local partners say that the returnees are families who intend to stay for good in the city, and not simply relatives who have gone in advance to assess the situation or check on their properties.
Despite the returns, the agency said the security situation in the city remains “extremely volatile,” with some 10,000 civilians fleeing this week from Dharkenley and Wadajir districts in north-east Mogadishu to escape advancing Islamist militia, who wanted to seize control of the neighbourhood. “Most of the displaced have moved to other neighbourhoods within Mogadishu or to the outskirts of the city,” said UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond.
“Thousands of the city's residents who remain in IDP sites outside Mogadishu are reluctant or fearful of returning to their homes,” he added.
Some 300,000 of them live in makeshift shelters in the Afgooye area, some 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu, which also happens to have the largest concentration of IDPs in the world today.
According to UNHCR, some 1 million Somalis have fled Mogadishu since February 2007, when fighting erupted between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers and insurgents. The total number of Somalis displaced within the country is 1.3 million.
Last year, some 100,000 Somalis sought refuge in neighbouring countries, the agency added.
Meanwhile, Somalia’s presidential election slated to take place today in neighbouring Djibouti, where the newly-enlarged Somali Transitional Parliament is meeting.
The new president is to then appoint a prime minister and create a government of national unity. Several candidates, including prominent members of both the TFG and the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), are vying for the post.