During Somalia’s 2011 famine, in which a quarter of a million people died, Hassan lost many of his cattle. With the few that survived, he managed to stay at home in Qansahdheere, in southwestern Somalia. Six years on, as Somalia faces yet another humanitarian disaster, Hassan and his family have fled to Mogadishu hoping to find aid. Hassan and his family made it to the capital city’s only government-managed camp, Badbaado.
Half of Somalia’s population of 12.3 million people currently need humanitarian assistance. Legal, political and security restrictions and limited funding are restricting the access of international aid agencies to parts of the country, including areas controlled by the Islamist armed group Al-Shabab. Every day thousands of people like Hassan are moving into urban areas under government control, where international assistance is more likely to arrive. According to the United Nations, just under half a million people have fled their homes since November largely because of the drought, many arriving in Mogadishu and Baidoa, a town at the epicenter of the crisis.
But there are no quick solutions. The reality awaiting those like Hassan is often hostile and sometimes abusive.
Hundreds of thousands of people are in informal displacement camps, 400,000 in Mogadishu alone. Most arrived during the 2011 famine or due to ongoing clan fighting, military operations and insecurity in regions bordering the capital. Recent arrivals also include people who are returning from Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab refugee camp after the authorities said they would shut the camp down and started coercing refugees to leave.
Since the 2011 famine, people living in these settlements have faced serious abuse at the hands of government and private actors, including camp managers known as “gatekeepers,” who often have links to local authorities, business people and militias. Beatings, rape, including at times by African Union peace support forces, plus the diversion of food aid, restrictions on movement, and discrimination based on clan affiliation have marked their everyday lives.
The situation has not significantly improved.
Many of the people in the camps are from traditionally marginalized or less powerful communities, who rarely own or have rights over the land.
According to the UN and local women’s rights groups, rape remains widespread in Somalia’s displacement camps. To make things worse, a growing demand for land in central Mogadishu has triggered the forcible evictions of tens of thousands of people from the Mogadishu camps. In March 2015, government forces came with bulldozers and kicked out 21,000 camp residents in a 24-hour period, beating those who resisted and destroying their meager property.
While the escalating famine is receiving much needed news coverage, the evictions are not. Since November 2016, over 60,000 people have been forcibly evicted, including from camps where people like Hassan have been arriving.
The government’s Badbaado camp is not immune. In March, two people who had lived there told me that a man turned up with an armed militia and threatened and coerced dozens of families into leaving their shelters. “We reported the threats to the police,” said “Ibrahim,” who had been living in the camp since the 2011 famine. “They replied ‘You don’t have evidence!’ They took no interest, and told us to leave. When we saw that they were not going to help us, we decided to leave the camp.”
For people who are already hungry and in very precarious situations, evictions often mean losing the few belongings they have, including basic shelter, access to day labor opportunities and greater insecurity and hunger.
Limited job opportunities put displaced women and girls at particular risk of sexual violence and exploitation – including the longer and often hazardous journeys they have to take to find firewood or water, secure day labor, or beg.
Many of those evicted have been forced to move to more dangerous places on the outskirts of Mogadishu, where shelter is scarce and access to aid is even more limited. The families recently evicted from Badbaado, including Ibrahim’s, moved toward Lafoole–20 kilometers outside of Mogadishu, where they have since been joined by people fleeing the current drought.
Some residents told me they were now living in huts made of sticks, they had no access to clean water and sanitary facilities, and they had so far only received assistance from local business people and youth groups that have been trying to raise funds for those newly displaced.
Somalia’s new leaders say that averting a famine and dealing with the resulting health crisis is a priority. But ignoring systemic abuses and the vulnerabilities of people most affected by previous and ongoing crises means that the current efforts will have limited long-term impact in protecting these communities from future displacement and risk.
The new government should put a stop to forced evictions from public land. A draft displacement policy from the previous administration spells out how to conduct lawful evictions. The government needs to endorse that policy and make sure it is carried out. No one should be evicted without due process, and the government needs to make sure that basic security and assistance are provided to the areas people move to.
At the same time, the government, along with its international partners, should urgently improve the protection and security at informal settlements in the main urban areas, so that people like Ibrahim and Hassan can find protection and the help they need.