(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

IDPs prefer camps to war-torn Mogadishu

Shukri Mohamed with her children in an IDP camp in north Mogadishu
Hassan Mahamud Ahmed/IRIN

Shukri Mohamed, a mother of seven, is not ready to return home to Mogadishu, despite changing camps four times since she was displaced by violence in 2007.

"I will only return when the last Ethiopian soldier leaves Mogadishu; because they [insurgents] say they won't stop fighting until the Ethiopians leave," she told IRIN on 22 December.

Ethiopia, which sent troops to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), had indicated it would leave by the end of 2008.

Mohamed, like many internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the war-torn country, is pessimistic about returning home soon.

"All this talk about them [Ethiopians] leaving and peace agreements has not changed anything," she said. "We have to see it to believe it. I hope we will soon be back home but I doubt it."

Mohamed is one of tens of thousands of civilians who fled Mogadishu to escape fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents in the past two years.

She said she and her family moved from one IDP camp to another whenever fighting caught up with them. "At one point, the family was sleeping under a tree, that was the hardest part, but I'd rather keep them [the children] safe under a tree,” she said.

Mohamed, who ran a shop in Towfiq area of north Mogadishu, now lives with her family in an IDP camp in Karan district.

At the camp, she said, they received food aid - "at least now my children don’t go hungry”.

A civil society activist in Mogadishu, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that many IDPs would be reluctant to return to their homes “even if the guns fall silent tomorrow”.

He said there was doubt about the departure of the Ethiopian soldiers, and "even if they do that the fighting will not stop”.

Many IDPs had lost everything, he said, adding that their homes had either been destroyed or looted in the civil war that has been raging for years.

"Many others were small-scale traders and lost the little they had and have no idea where to start,” the activist said, adding that in camps, IDPs received various services, such as food, water and some health and sanitation facilities, which they would not find if they returned to their homes.

IDPS sheltering under a tree.

Abdullahi Hassan/IRIN
IDPS sheltering under a tree.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Puntland warns of looming humanitarian crisis
IDPS sheltering under a tree.

Photo: Abdullahi Hassan/IRIN
IDPs shelter under a tree

"To many, the camps offer some sort of security. It will require a great deal of convincing, planning and support to get them back, if and when the fighting stops and the Ethiopians leave,” the activist said.

A ceasefire between the TFG and a faction of the Eritrea-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has been in place since early June; however, it had not had much effect in Mogadishu, said one local journalist, who requested anonymity.

“It seems that every time they sign something, things get worse in the city,” he said. Mogadishu had seen some of the worst fighting since then, he added.

Health issues

Abikar Sheekhey, a volunteer doctor visiting makeshift IDP camps outside the city, said the health of the displaced was "not getting better".

He said that on his latest visit on 22 December to the camp in Karan, he saw people suffering from diarrhoea, TB and other respiratory and skin diseases. "Almost 90 percent of the patients I see are children," he said.

Meanwhile, a local human rights group said that at least 16,000 Somalis died between 2007 and 2008 and more than 30,000 were injured. Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organization, told IRIN those were the numbers his group was able to verify.

“I am certain that the real figures are much higher as there are many unaccounted for.”

Yassin said more than a million people had been displaced by the violence.

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