VIII. Displacement by the Fighting

Displacement within Mogadishu

As the clashes intensified in February and March, some civilians moved to different areas of the city, trying to find a safe place to live. However, for poorer communities this was less of an option. Some people who had sufficient money moved their families to safer neighborhoods or even outside of Mogadishu as the attacks and reprisals increased, and sometimes moved several times as the fighting shifted or neighborhoods came under attack from either side.

The experience of 39-year-old “Khadija” (not her real name) and her family illustrates the challenges of finding security in Mogadishu in this period. The family lived in the Bulahubay neighborhood, close to Villa Baidoa, a large complex about two kilometers northwest of the airport, which was a base for Ethiopian troops and quickly became a target for insurgency mortar fire.

Fearing that the Ethiopian troops in the proximity could be targeted, Khadija moved her family from the Bulahubay area to KPP, in Hodan district, in early February. However, insurgents deployed in Hodan soon became a target for Ethiopian fire. She said, “The insurgents used the area as a platform to launch rocket attacks. I had to move again. I was accommodated by a friend at Bakara market area. My friend and her two children lived in a concrete house as this was the best place to take refuge.”307

When the fighting intensified in late-March, two more families moved into the house. Khadija’s family survived the fighting during the first Ethiopian offensive from March 29 through April 1, although they heard and witnessed explosions in their area, and some of their neighbors lost family members. As soon as the ceasefire came into effect on April 2, she decided to flee Mogadishu, fearing—as indeed was the case—that the lull in the bombardment was temporary and the fighting would soon resume.

For many of the poorer residents and displaced people living in Mogadishu, moving around the city and renting new accommodation was impossible, and even paying for transport to flee the city was beyond their means. As the fighting and bombardment continued, the roads filled with many of the city’s poorest people fleeing on foot.308

Treatment of Displaced People Fleeing Mogadishu

At least 365,000 people fled Mogadishu in the period from February to May 2007, according to UN estimates.309 Many of those who fled the city escaped during the temporary ceasefire beginning April 2 and in the roughly two-week period that followed. Tens of thousands of people stayed within the vicinity of Mogadishu, relocating to neighboring towns such as Afgoi and Marka (respectively 30 and 100 kilometers from the city, but many others traveled as far as Hargeysa and Bosaso in the north or all the way to the Kenyan border in the south.

Bandit attacks on civilians fleeing Mogadishu 

After leaving their homes and surviving the intense fighting in the city, thousands of displaced people from Mogadishu suffered further attacks from criminal elements as they fled the city in March and April. Many of the fleeing civilians were attacked in an area between Marka and Jilib along the route to Kismayo. Others who took the road to Baidoa were attacked near Lego village. Those people who fled north used the main road that leaves Mogadishu towards the central regions, and Human Rights Watch heard many accounts of attacks on this group between Bulaburte and Beletweyne and between Beletweyne and Mataban.

The armed individuals and groups responsible for the attacks varied depending on the location, though the attacks often shared certain characteristics. The attackers appear to have been motivated by the opportunity to steal cash, goods, and other assets from unarmed civilians. In addition, in some areas there was a pattern of rape and sexual violence against women and girls.

Witnesses blamed bandits and other criminal elements for the attacks, not TFG or Ethiopian forces or the insurgency. However, even in locations like Marka and Afgoi that were under TFG control, the TFG failed to take steps to improve security for those in flight. Likewise, Ethiopian troops present in locations where attacks were occurring made no effort to intervene to stop or prevent attacks. For instance, many fleeing people were attacked near Lego village, which is close to Ballidogle airport, where the Ethiopian military has one of its biggest bases in Somalia.

Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of individuals who told consistent accounts of armed men firing on them, stealing their possessions, and occasionally raping women and girls.310 A few illustrative accounts are provided below:

  • A 17-year-old girl who fled Mogadishu on March 23 said that she and her sister were in a minibus on the way to Dobley when it was attacked between Marka and Jilib. Armed men fired at the bus to stop it, then ordered everyone out and looted all possessions. The gunmen told everyone to lie down and those who refused were beaten. The men took the loot on a donkey cart, told men not to look at them, and then they left. She said, “They took away three women including my sister. They raped all three women, kept them for three to four hours and allowed them to rejoin us. My sister told me that she was raped by two men, alternating between them.”311
  • A 17-year-old girl who fled Mogadishu on April 21 was in a convoy that was ambushed just past Afgoi at 10 p.m. She said, “I witnessed one incident when a girl was taken out of a vehicle and raped in the bush nearby, she was about 25 years old. I saw the woman after she was released. She could not speak, she was crying.”312 Later in the journey, as her convoy traveled between Bulohawo and Mandera, it was ambushed again. Up to six people were wounded, including a driver who later died.
  • On April 2 a woman who traveled through Wanlaweyn witnessed the aftermath of an attack on a vehicle in Lego village. When armed men tried to stop a minibus, she said, “The driver of the minibus speeded up in order to escape, prompting the gunmen to fire. Two people were killed and five were injured. I saw two dead male bodies in the bus as we passed by. An Ethiopian checkpoint was not that far from where these incidents took place.”313
  • A 35-year-old woman who was nine months pregnant and fled Mogadishu in late-April was in a convoy that was ambushed at Bal’ad. After bandits fired on the vehicle, “The driver stopped the bus and bandits came and took household materials and clothes. They were three men armed with AK-47s. They kept on searching the bus for three hours. They took away a bag full of household materials from me. They did not take away any women from the bus.”314
  • A man who left Mogadishu on April 29 was in a convoy that was ambushed at Jimbiley village, near Buloburte. He said, “The vehicle in front of us was shot at first. The driver of our vehicle managed to drive back and escaped. Three women and the driver were wounded in the first vehicle. This happened around 10 p.m. We drove back to a small village. However, we heard they robbed the other vehicle and took bags, clothes and money.315

307 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Nairobi, April 25, 2007.

308 “Somalia: Displaced trickle back to war-ravaged Mogadishu,” IRINnews, May 2, 2007, (accessed August 4, 2007).

309 “UN receives Somalia aid promise,” Al, April 25, 2007, (accessed July 10, 2007).

310 Human Rights Watch interviews, Nairobi, Galkayo, Hargeysa, and Bosaso, April-May 2007.

311 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Nairobi, April 28, 2007.

312 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Nairobi, April 28, 2007.

313 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Nairobi, April 25, 2007.

314 Human Rights Watch interview with 35-year-old displaced man, Galkayo, May 1, 2007.

315 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Hargeysa, May 10, 2007.