By Elizabeth Costner
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa
MOGADISHU, Somalia – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced today that the number of displaced people in Somalia has hit a “staggering” one million. About sixty percent, or 600,000 people are thought to have fled the capital of Mogadishu since February, with nearly 200,000 being displaced in the last two weeks alone. The total population is approximately 8.8 million according to the most recent World Almanac.
Citizens have been forced out of their homes due to a renewed conflict between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces. The UNHCR has stated that those who have fled may end up living in desperate conditions. Those in the Afgooye area, about 30km from Mogadishu, are “using plastic bags and rags to patch up their flimsy mud and straw huts.”
Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in December of last year in an effort to drive the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and to establish and restore the UN-backed transitional government. Following the invasion, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi promised his troops would remain for only a few weeks, however they have yet to leave and have become involved in a guerilla-type conflict. Islamists responded to the invasion by launching an insurgency against the Somali government and Ethiopian troops.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia is calling on the UN Security Council to deploy peacekeepers to Somalia. The African Union previously pledged 8,000 troops to assist the weak government, however to date only 1,500 Ugandan troops have arrived.
The increased violence and instability in the region has prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to rule out sending any peacekeepers to the Horn of Africa, except for a “coalition of the willing.” On Monday, the Security Council admitted that there is a need for a contingency plan for possible deployment of UN troops, but gave no promises. Previous peacekeeping efforts by the UN and the US were extremely unsuccessful and disastrous in the mid-1990s and Somalia has since had a difficult time getting assistance.
For more information, please see:
CNN – Million displaced in Somalia – 20 November 2007
BBC News – ‘One million’ homeless in Somalia – 20 November 2007
Reuters Africa – Number of displaced Somalis hits 1 million – 20 November 2007
AFP – Ethiopia urges quick deployment of peacekeepers in Somalia – 20 November 2007
VOA News – Tensions Grow in Somalia – 20 November 2007