UN refugee agency said on Wednesday that life in the Somali capital of Mogadishu has become unbearable to thousands of people who have been flooding into Balcad, a small town 35 km north of Mogadishu.
In a press release, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the displaced is a part of a massive exodus from battle-torn Mogadishu that has seen almost 100,000 people flee since the beginning of February, including some 47,000 in the last two weeks.
UNHCR staff members said new arrivals spoke of the chaos inside Mogadishu and the problems they have encountered in trying to reach safe places.
"Almost all of the people have left behind their belongings and brought only what they could carry in their hands. Some families left behind their young men to protect their homes," said a UNHCR staff member in Balcad.
"People look worried, miserable and hopeless. All they carry are small items such as paper bags containing a few clothes, mattresses and cooking utensils", said the UNHCR staff member, adding that those leaving Mogadishu had told him "living there had become unbearable" and they would not return until the security situation changed.
More than 17,000 fleeing civilians arrived in the Balcad district of Middle Shabelle in March. The district seat was relatively calm thanks to a stable local administration.
The trigger for the massive outflow was the fighting between insurgents and the Ethiopian-backed transitional government, which captured Mogadishu from the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts in December.
Many local people have compared the situation to the mass movement which followed the fall of the Siad Barre regime and the ensuing civil war in Somalia more than 15 years ago.
"The new arrivals here said transport costs had risen dramatically while the displaced had to negotiate frequent illegal checkpoints on the congested roads," the release said. The cost of the road trip from Mogadishu to Balcad had risen from 10,000 Somali shillings to 30,000 Somali shillings (7.50 U.S. dollars to 22.50 dollars).
Displaced Somalis with no relatives or clan links are living under trees, on the roadside or out in the open. Without proper shelter, water, food or sanitation, many are resorting to begging for their survival.
Meanwhile, representatives of Somalia's Hawiye clan and Ethiopian army have agreed to cooperate and implement a recent ceasefire inked several days ago to end the fighting in Mogadishu.
A committee of 15 members recently appointed by Hawiye subclans and the Ethiopian army officers have agreed on strengthening the recent ceasefire agreement signed on April 1.