Somalia: No Safety in Mogadishu

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Nairobi, November 7, 2007 — While thousands of people flee the Somali capital Mogadishu, the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is gravely concerned about the remaining population as violence intensifies in the city.

MSF is one of the only international organizations providing health services in Mogadishu and is witnessing increasing violence in the areas near one of its clinics. Those who are able have left the city, but many more are trapped, cannot afford to flee, or are too afraid to leave Mogadishu. People are fleeing into other areas of the city but are increasingly left with no safe place to seek refuge.

"People are terrified but most have little choice except to wait and hope that the violence does not come to them," said Colin McIlreavy, MSF head of mission for Somalia. "In Mogadishu now there is no safe place to go."

The high levels of insecurity often prevent wounded civilians from receiving medical assistance. MSF staff have been unable to help individuals who have been wounded by shrapnel or bullets during fighting at night. Some have bled to death as it was too dangerous to move them to hospitals. Former residents of a densely populated suburb near MSF's clinic described armed men marching through the streets emptying houses, in some cases shooting unarmed people.

Displaced people living in Mogadishu are particularly vulnerable. Makeshift camps are found throughout the city. Residents of these camps usually have little more than ripped cloth and plastic sheeting for shelter, which provide no protection from bullets, mortars, and shells. There are few men in these camps, leaving women to struggle to feed and care for their children, and remain vulnerable to violence and looting. Last week, MSF treated three women who had been raped in their home the previous night by armed men.

In the past weeks, MSF staff in Mogadishu have reported fighting coming increasingly closer to the clinic. Some staff are not able to travel to work because of roads closed due to the violence.

"We've seen a massive reduction in numbers of people coming to our clinic from some neighborhoods where fighting has been heaviest," said Dr. Fuad, an MSF doctor in the Mogadishu clinic. "This is consistent with the stories we hear of people fleeing these neighborhoods to go to other parts of Mogadishu."

Many who can afford to flee the city are doing so, but at high risk.

"The checkpoints between Mogadishu and Galcayo are unlike any I have seen in my life," said one man interviewed by MSF team members in Galcayo, north of Mogadishu. "I managed to count 86 over 300 kilometers where they demanded money. Halfway through our journey, money was not enough and they took everything."

MSF is struggling to provide a measure of healthcare and humanitarian assistance to the people of Mogadishu. But Mogadishu's residents need more than medical care — they need safety. MSF calls upon all warring factions to refrain from indiscriminate attacks on civilians and to respect International Humanitarian Law.