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This post first appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.
The first thing you notice are the colors. The vibrant reds, blues, and greens of the multi-colored domes that dot an otherwise dry and dusty landscape. From a distance, it could almost be described as beautiful. But as we drive closer, the domes transform into the crude and woefully inadequate shelters of thousands of displaced Somalis.
I and my Refugees International colleague are in Hargeisa, Somaliland, visiting camps for displaced people. There are an estimated 85,000 internally displaced people in Somaliland, and the majority of these live in Hargeisa. Some of these people have been living in squalid settlements for more than twenty years – victims of several forced displacements throughout those two decades. Others are more recently arrived.
On this day, we are visiting a settlement on the outskirts of Hargeisa where 2700 families have made camp over the past year. The majority of these are nomads who lost their animals and thus means of livelihood in last summer’s devastating drought. Now they find themselves living in makeshift shelters with limited access to the most basic of services such as water, sanitation, and health care.
It is here that we meet Darajo. She used to live in the region between Hargeisa and the border with Ethiopia. When the drought hit and she lost her animals, Darajo, her husband, and their ten children walked for three months to reach this settlement. Like the others in this camp, Darajo and her family are now forced to collect gravel and firewood to sell for food, or to make the long walk into the city centre where they try to find odd jobs or to beg.
Just a couple of miles drive along a dirt road takes us to another part of the settlement. Here we meet people from south central Somalia, who were forced to travel north because of ongoing violence. People like Hakimo, who fled to Hargeisa from Mogadishu. One year ago, Hakimo lost four of her children in a mortar attack. She herself still bears shrapnel wounds from that attack. She raises her sleeve to show us her scar.
The circumstances that brought Darajo and Hakimo to this settlement are different. But their goal is the same – they both want to go home. Sadly, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. There is a far greater likelihood that they will join the growing numbers of Hargeisa’s long-term displaced population.
There are very basic humanitarian needs here that are not being met. These must be addressed. But the relative stability of Somaliland also presents an opportunity for the international aid community and its donors to develop long-term development strategies to better cope with this protracted displacement crisis.
Somaliland considers itself an independent state – although it is not officially recognized as such. Unlike its neighbor Somalia, Somaliland has a well-established functioning government and has been mostly unscathed by the violence of Al-Shabaab militants that plagues the south.
There is a will here to provide a better life for those displaced by drought and violence. What is lacking is the capacity to do so.September 18, 2012 | Tagged as: Africa, Somalia, Humanitarian Response, Protection & Security, Women & Children