This week, Refugees International is embarking on a field mission to Somalia, where we will assess the conditions of – and gaps in response for – the more than 1.3 million Somalis who are internally displaced. Our team plans to visit IDP settlements in the capital, Mogadishu, as well as in the breakaway regions of Puntland and Somaliland.
Somalis are continuing to recover from the famine that struck their homeland last year. That disaster was sparked by a combination of drought, heightened conflict, the expulsion of a number of UN agencies and INGOs from Al-Shabab controlled areas, and U.S. counter-terror policies that contributed to a dramatic reduction in aid flows to South Central Somalia. Though famine conditions have now subsided, the so-called ‘long rains’ (which last from April to June) were late and poorly distributed, and produced a below-average harvest. Food insecurity and pervasive conflict are continuing to force Somalis from their homes and adding additional stress to those already displaced.
Somalia is engulfed in a protracted humanitarian crisis and, within this context, IDPs are particularly vulnerable. They experience exploitation, physical abuse, and gender-based violence at an even higher level than the rest of the population. Often, landowners charge IDPs ‘fees’ for basic services, such as access to water, and many IDPs are under a constant threat of eviction from their makeshift settlements. In Mogadishu, which is ostensibly under the control of the Somali government, ‘gatekeepers’ control access to IDP camps and can impede the delivery of services to the most vulnerable.
RI’s mission will take place at a time when the political and security currents within Somalia are shifting. The mandate of the Transitional Federal Government ended in August, and in Mogadishu today the country’s parliament is selecting a new president. South of the capital, meanwhile, African Union peacekeeping forces are trying to wrest control of the port city of Kismayo from Al-Shabab; and to the west, Ethiopian forces are continuing their advance against the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group. All the while civilians are fleeing their homes, hoping to avoid being caught in the cross fire. And of course, this is just the latest of many waves of Somali displacement over the last three decades – with some families displaced multiple times.
By going to Somalia, meeting with the IDPs themselves, and interviewing a wide range of agencies, NGOs, and government actors who are involved in the response, RI will develop a comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground, and come back ready to advocate on behalf of this vulnerable population.
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