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News from Somalia: Somalis' Endless Refugee Life

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  • Zafar Khan
    Somalis Endless Refugee Life By Abdullahi Jamaa Thu. Mar. 19, 2009
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 21, 2009
      Somalis' Endless Refugee Life
      By Abdullahi Jamaa
      Thu. Mar. 19, 2009


      NAIROBI — Mrs. Fatuma Hassan, 42, breastfeeds her one-year son Ahmed outside a hot open hearth at the teeming Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya, where thousands of Somalis have sought asylum.
      "Yesterday was the last time we ate…most times even the young children sleep on an empty belly," the helpless mother told IslamOnline.net while cooking a meager meal.

      "The boy is crying because he is hungry. Sometimes I feel like he is sucking blood."

      Mrs. Hassan is one of over 250,000 refugees from war-torn Somalia taking refugee at crowded Dadaab.

      Her family members are among the first group of Somali refugees who fled Mogadishu and crossed into neighboring Kenya immediately after the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991.

      Over the past years she stayed in the desolate camp surviving on one meal a day.

      "Living conditions here are very harsh, especially for the vulnerable groups like women and children," weeps Mrs. Hassan.

      "Life is troublesome as food, shelter and everything is scarce."

      Families at the camp are living in the most deplorable conditions, many of them relying on relief handouts by international aid agencies.

      Adding insult to Mrs. Hassan's injuries, she lost her husband and 17-year son, both died of illnesses in the camp.

      "The sudden death of my husband and son is something that haunts me every moment, making life here unbearable."

      Dadaab refugee camp, designed to accommodate 90,000 people, now has a
      population of about a quarter of a million, making it one of the world's largest and most congested refugee sites.

      The UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) says more and more people are seeking
      asylum in the refugee camp, now struggling to cope with the swelling numbers.


      Many families fleeing the fighting in Somalia are thronging the porous and ragged
      border with Kenya, seeking refuge at mundane facilities at the camp.
      "I have stayed in Mogadishu for most of my life, even when militiamen and
      warlords roamed the city's streets in their quest for power," recalls Mrs. Hamara Abdi, who is among the new comers.

      "But I have now been forced to flee that town."

      An African Union peacekeeper (AU) was killed and three others injured in twin bomb attacks in Mogadishu on Thursday.

      The AU mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, is the sole foreign peacekeeping force in Somalia.

      Its troops have been the repeated target of the militant Al-Shebab group that now controls several towns in southern and central Somalia.

      Mrs. Abdi is sheltering under an open acacia tree together with her four children.

      "At least I have peace here, despite the biting shortage of food and water."

      The admission of new refugees arriving everyday at the camp is a strong indication of the situation in Somalia where about 3.2 million people face what has been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

      The crisis is peaking each passing day, with thousands of other families internally displaced in the expansive horn of Africa nation.

      According to UNHCR spokesman in Nairobi Emmanuel Nyabera , an estimated 200 Somali refugees arrive every week.

      After Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, Somalia is one of the Muslim countries registering the biggest number of displaced families.

      They are fleeing the endless instability in the southern and central parts of war-weary Somalia.

      "Already the camps are overcrowded, this has overstretched provision of humanitarian services provided by the various aid groups" Nyabera told IOL.


      Somalia is transforming itself from a reign where warlords and faction leaders
      have been in control for decades to a rather complicated era where Iraqi-style religious and sectarian violence is gaining momentum each passing day.

      In the past few days, fierce fighting between Al-Shebab and Ahlu-Sunnah
      Waljamaa has further complicated efforts to return peace to Somalia.

      A flare up of tensions between the two groups is causing ripples in many parts of south and central Somalia, taking a political shape.

      "The renewed religious violence is leading the country into a new war which is likely to continue for ever," Muktar Adan, a Somali MP, told IOL.

      Somali refugees, some of whom have stayed in the camps for decades, are worried of how many more years they have to wait for peace to prevail in their home country.

      Mrs. Hassan, the middle-aged mother, endured so many years of trouble and vexation with a brimming hope that one day she will go back to her home country.

      "We have been staying here for more than 20 years now, for all those years…every day I prayed that Mogadishu will have peace at last."

      But every time she gets to know the fresh killings and displacement in Somalia, her hopes starts waning.

      "I feel discomfort even within my mind, it means I have to stay here much more than I anticipated," she sobs.

      "Nobody wants to be a refugee forever, but it seems we obviously have to be in this camp if the current situations persists, we are just counting on our God, but going back home is now a tall order."

      Somali rivals in deadly clashes
      March 15, 2009


      Fighting between rival armed opposition groups has killed at least 13 people in central Somalia, residents say.

      Members of the Ahlu Sunna Wal-jama'ah group clashed with rivals from the al-Shabab movement outside the town of Wabho, north of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in fighting that began on Saturday.

      "Thirteen people are dead - eight of them combatants, from both sides - and seven others were injured," Abdisamed Adan Yusuf, a local resident told the AFP news agency.

      The fighting continued on the outskirts of the town on Sunday, residents said.

      Ahlu Sunna Wal-jama'ah said its fighters had captured seven al-Shabab members.

      "We lost one and four others were injured from our side," Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, a spokesman for the Ahlu Sunna, told the Reuters news agency.

      "We shall conclude the war in a short while," he said. "Wabho is now in our hand and we are now about to capture El Bur, their biggest base."

      There was no immediate comment from al-Shabab.

      Sharia-based law

      The two groups have clashed repeatedly over control of the region.

      Al-Shabab and allied groups control much of southern and central Somalia and want to impose their version of sharia, or Islamic law, in the country.

      Earlier this month, Somalia's cabinet voted to make Islamic law the basis for the country's legal system in an attempt to isolate more extreme armed groups by agreeing to a demand supported by much of the Somali population.

      The bill must still be approved by parliament.

      Somalia to get sharia-based law
      March 11, 2009


      The Somali cabinet has voted to make Islamic law the basis for the country's legal system.

      Tuesday's move was an attempt to isolate more extreme armed groups by agreeing to a demand supported by much of the Somali population.

      Farhan Ali Mohamed, the information minister, said implementing sharia, or Islamic law, would help end attacks by the militias.

      The bill must still be approved by parliament, which is expected to hear it within days, and the ministry of justice would still select judges and police would have the power to detain suspects, the minister said.

      Several armed groups have said they will stop fighting the government if sharia were implemented.

      They include the Islamic party, an alliance of four groups that control parts of the capital and have influence in the port town of Kismayo.

      But the al-Shabab group, which controls the main cities in the south, has said it does not recognise the legitimacy of the government.

      Thousands of Somalis have been killed in battles between armed groups and pro-government forces in the past two years.

      The chaotic Horn of Africa nation has been without an effective central government since clan leaders overthrew the government in 1991 and then turned their militias on each other.

      In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union took over the capital Mogadishu and much of the south before Ethiopian troops supporting the shaky UN-backed government chased them from power.

      The Ethiopians left Somalia at the beginning of this year as part of a peace deal and parliament elected Sheik Ahmed Sheik Sharif as president in January.

      The former Islamic fighter has distanced himself from more hardline militias.

      Thousands flee Somalia fighting
      February 26, 2009


      Renewed fighting in Somalia has forced about 17,000 people to flee their homes, according to a local human rights group.

      The announcement on Thursday comes after battles between rebel fighters and pro-government forces in Mogadishu, the capital, killed at least 48 civilians.

      The dead included two school children who were killed by an artillery shell in fighting over the past two-days between Somali rebel fighters and African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Mogadishu.

      More than 90 people were injured in the clashes, Ali Yasin Gedi, the vice-chairman of the local Elman Peace and Human Rights group, said on Wednesday.

      Witnesses said at least 15 rebel al-Shabab fighters and six policemen were killed in exchanges of gunfire and mortar bombs, which have rocked the coastal capital since Tuesday.

      Presidential return

      The latest violence has flared up just days after Sharif Ahmed, the new Somali president, returned to the coastal city to form an inclusive unity government - the 15th attempt in 18 years - to bring peace to the failed Horn of Africa state.

      On Wednesday, al-Shabab seized control of the town of Hodur, near the Ethiopian border, from government-backed forces, residents and al-Shabab members told the AFP news agency.

      Al-Shabab and allied groups control much of southern and central Somalia and want to impose their version of sharia (Islamic law) in the country.

      The AU currently has about 3,200 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi in Somalia, where two years of fighting have killed more than 16,000 civilians and displaced millions from their homes.

      Humanitarian crisis

      More than a third of the population depend on aid, and large parts of Mogadishu lie empty and destroyed.

      Al-Shabab and other anti-government groups regularly attack government troops and AU peacekeepers, in efforts to force them out of the country.

      The rebel group gained support as one of the key factions waging war against Ethiopian troops who they said were propping up the country's previous government.

      An Ethiopian withdrawal in January eased the fighting, but al-Shabab has since turned its fire on the AU force, Amisom, and the new government.

      Regional diplomats hope the inclusion of Islamist groups in the new administration may marginalise groups like al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of terrorist organisations and is known to have foreign fighters in its ranks.
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