More and more of the thousands fleeing fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, are young men trying to avoid being conscripted into the various militias, locals told IRIN.
Many have been pouring into Dobley, near the Kenyan border, some 630km south of Mogadishu.
Faisal Mohamed, a resident of Dobley, said between 8,000 and 15,000 displaced people had arrived in the town since early May.
"Every day a fresh group of IDPs [internally displaced people] arrives," he said. "Most of them move toward the Kenyan border hoping to cross. Not a day passes without new arrivals.
“In the past we used to get mostly women and children, but now the new arrivals are mostly young men,” he said.
Abdulkadir Ali, 19, said he had arrived in the town on 6 July, a week after escaping Mogadishu. Originally from the Shangani area, north Mogadishu, Ali told IRIN many Mogadishu youth were fleeing because they were afraid of being conscripted into the militias.
“They either use force to [make you] join them or accuse you of belonging to the other side,” he said. “I don’t want to join any army.”
He said of the 11 members of his family, only he and his sister survived when their house was shelled. “I have no idea how we survived but we did.”
He said IDPs fleeing the recent upsurge of violence in Mogadishu wanted to go to “any place safe. There is no future there. At least in the [Kenyan refugee] camps there is education."
Escalation in fighting
Since early May, fighting between forces loyal to the Somali government and those of two Islamist armed opposition groups, including the militant al-Shabab group, has escalated, displacing more than 200,000 people. Some 542 have been killed and 2,137 injured since 7 May, according to a local human rights group.
Mohamed Omar, 22, who arrived at the same time as Ali, said the biggest fear for many young men in Mogadishu was “being forced to join the fighting groups. We suffer like everyone else but we have the added problem of being recruited or accused of being an enemy," Omar said. "Every young man in Mogadishu is in danger.”
Ali and Omar said they wanted to cross to Kenya but did not have enough money. “You have to have money to give to those who will help you cross,” said Ali.
The Kenyan government closed the border in early 2007 but the number of Somalis arriving in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya continues to rise, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
In a briefing note issued on 8 July, the agency said "since May, more than 11,000 Somali refugees have been registered at the refugee camp, bringing to 36,000 the number of Somali refugees who have arrived in the camp since the beginning of the year”.
An aid worker, who requested anonymity, told IRIN the displaced in Dobley were for the most part left to fend for themselves. “There is not much help here for them and the local community cannot support them.”
The displaced live in abysmal conditions, with “very little food, no shelter and no health facility", he said, adding that Dobley, a town of about 15,000 inhabitants, had one medical facility, which "cannot even take care of the locals”.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions