SomaliPress.com

Refugees Returning to 'Risky' Mogadishu

Published on Wednesday 4th March 2009

Hawa Salad Halane and her two children are among the families returning to Heliwa district of north Mogadishu after 18 months in an overcrowded camp on the outskirts of the capital.

"We came back five days ago but found most of our homes destroyed by shells; everything is either destroyed or looted," Halane told IRIN on 4 March.

Thousands of Mogadishu residents such as Halane opted to return following the withdrawal, in late January, of Ethiopian troops after two years supporting the Transitional Federal Government.

Halane said many of the returnees were using plastic sheeting "and anything else we can find" for roofing after the iron sheets on their homes were looted.

"This will do for now but if it rains I don't know what we will do," she said. "It is not what I expected but it is better than what I left behind [the IDP camp]."

Halane said some of her neighbours did not even have walls on their homes. "We are one of the lucky ones."

She said she hoped the new government, installed in February after the resignation of former President Abdullahi Yusuf, would come to their aid.

"We have nothing to rebuild with. Without my husband I don't even know how I will feed my children."

During her displacement, Halane lost touch with her husband. "We have not seen him for seven months. I don't even know whether he is alive or dead."

She said she was still hanging on to a makeshift shelter in the camp as insurance. "I don't know if things will settle, so I asked my neighbours in the camp to keep my place for me in case," she said.

Heliwa district was one of the areas in the city that experienced most fighting.

Although Halane's family and others have begun returning, many others remain in camps, said Ahmed Dini of Peaceline, a civil society group in Mogadishu.

"There are returns but I would describe it as a trickle, not a flood yet," Dini said.

He said most of the returnees were coming back to a risky situation, with little or no services.

"They have no health facilities or schools and on top of that there is no help to assist them restart their lives," he said.

"Most homes are either partially or totally destroyed."

He added that many of the families could not afford to rebuild. "We may have to set up [IDP] camps inside their compounds."

Malnourished children

Dini said his organisation, which monitors children, had noticed many of the returning youngsters were malnourished.

Moreover, he said, many neighbourhoods were infested with mines and other unexploded ordnances, "posing the greatest danger to children".

Another civil society source told IRIN the returns were driven by the difficulties in the camps. He warned, however, that they were taking a "great risk. We have a new government but Mogadishu is still a very dangerous place and fighting could resume at any time."

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that at least 40,000 displaced Somalis have returned to Mogadishu. At least 1.3 million Somalis are displaced within the country, according to UNHCR.

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