Two weeks ago, the Netherlands deported Said Ahmed Said to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The Dutch government has been saying for nearly a year that the situation on the ground has improved to the point where they can safely return failed asylum seekers.
On November 8, just two days after his return, however, Said was among those injured in a brutal attack on a hotel in central Mogadishu. The Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the double bomb blast, killing at least six people, including members of the security services that had arrived to investigate the first explosion when the second went off. Many more were injured, including Said, who was sprayed with glass in his hand and leg from one of the shattered windows.
People like Said are particularly at risk from Somalia’s ongoing instability and violence. A failed asylum seeker, the 26-year-old had not set foot in Somalia for two decades when the Dutch sent him back, and he had never been to Mogadishu. Said says he was born in the embattled city of Kismayo, in southern Somalia, and with no close relatives or friends to turn to in Mogadishu, his survival in the capital is precarious.
Without a local support network and not streetwise, people like Said lack the survival skills needed in today’s Somalia. They risk joining Mogadishu’s tens of thousands of internally displaced people who face serious abuse from those keen to prey on their vulnerability. It is a population the Somali government, despite initial good intentions, is failing to protect.
When I spoke to Said after the attack, he said he had not eaten for two days. He told me it was the first time he had seen dead bodies.
While no longer facing open warfare, civilians in Mogadishu continue to suffer targeted killings, attacks with improvised explosive devices, grenades, and sporadic gunfights. Civilians are in fact often the main victims of al-Shabaab’s attacks, either targeted or caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Said is the second person to be deported to Somalia from the Netherlands since September. We and others called for the Dutch government to immediately halt returns but to no avail.
Sweden is also eager to return Somalis. The European Court of Human Rights – giving insufficient importance to the volatile security situation and the crisis of displaced persons there – surprisingly gave it a green light to do so.
Said’s story is the tragic case of one young man, but changing policies within Western capitals could result in many more such individual tragedies if countries don’t immediately reassess their position.