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Somalis continue to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. As of September 2013, there were more than 1.1 million Somalis displaced internally and nearly one million refugees living in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.
Somalia has been engulfed in conflict since the Siad Barre regime collapsed in 1991, and many of its citizens have been displaced ever since. Spikes in violence and drought conditions have caused multiple waves of displacement over the years, and most recently the 2011-12 famine claimed over 260,000 lives. The government installed in 2012 controls only a fraction of the country, and those areas remains fragile in the face of tension between competing warlords and frequent attacks from the Al Shabab terrorist group.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Increased access and stability have improved Somalia’s humanitarian situation in recent months, but only marginally. While famine conditions no longer exist, the UN estimates that there are 870,000 people in need of live-saving humanitarian assistance. Cities are coming back to life in areas where Al Shabab has given up territorial control, particularly the capital Mogadishu, where approximately 369,000 IDPs reside. However, the displaced population is not benefitting from this revival.
A complex network of local powerbrokers (including businessmen, landowners, and public officials) controls the displacement camps and regularly diverts incoming aid. Further, as property values rise, landowners are designating more and more land for reconstruction and development. In the process, IDP camps on that land are being cleared, and IDPs are being forced to find shelter elsewhere. The UN estimates that tens of thousands of IDPs were evicted during August and September of 2013. RI is urging the Somali government to publicly condemn forced evictions and to implement protocols to protect the rights of IDPs.
In addition to the massive IDP population, Somalia is also the second-ranking source of refugees in the world. Kenya’s Dadaab camp, designed to hold 90,000 refugees fleeing the Somali civil war in 1991, holds nearly half a million refugees more than two decades later. The Kenyan government has indicated that it wants the bulk of the refugee population to return home. However, if returns occur prematurely, there is a high likelihood that those refugees will become IDPs within Somalia, facing the same protection challenges as the IDPs who are currently living in and around Mogadishu.
In November 2013, Kenya, Somalia, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) signed a Tripartite Agreement to establish a framework for supporting voluntary returns to Somalia. The principle of voluntariness must be upheld, and Kenya, along with UNHCR, must continue to provide protection and support for those refugees who feel that Somalia is not yet safe enough for a return home.
In December 2012, the Government of Kenya announced a directive that would force all refugees living in cities to relocate to camps, and shut down all registration and service provision to refugees and asylum-seekers in cities. This effectively empowered Kenyan security services to unleash a wave of abuse against refugees. That Kenya has not yet gone ahead with a forced relocation plan has led some to believe that the worst has been averted. Yet the directive caused severe harm even without being implemented. Many refugees felt forced to leave Nairobi following severe harassment. The directive has also been a set-back to Kenya’s notable advances in enabling urban refugees to support themselves, and it has put the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) global urban refugee policy at risk.
When violent conflict breaks out, the United States and other United Nations member states often call for the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces to create stability and protect people from harm. The UN Security Council has explicitly instructed peacekeepers to protect civilians under “imminent threat of violence” in most UN peacekeeping mandates since 1999. But there is no clarity as to what “protection” means in practice. Which circumstances require action and what level of force should be used? This has resulted in a lack of proper training, guidance and resources for peacekeepers to accomplish protection activities.