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Somalis continue to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. As of October 2012 there are roughly 1.3 million Somalis displaced internally and over a million refugees living in neighboring countries – including Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Overall, according to UNHCR, there are 3.7 million Somalis now “who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance” as a result of conflict or food insecurity.
Somalia has been engulfed in conflict since the Siade Barre regime collapsed in 1991, and many of its citizens have been displaced ever since. Spikes in violence have caused additional waves of displacement over the years. In 2011, the Horn of Africa also experienced its worst drought in 60 years and five regions within Somalia were declared famine zones. This caused hundreds of thousands of Somalis to leave their homes in search of food.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Though famine conditions no longer exist, food insecurity and pervasive conflict are continuing to force Somalis from their homes and add additional stress to those already displaced. Children are particularly affected by the ongoing humanitarian crises. In south-central Somalia, one out of every three children is malnourished. Nationally, the country has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world.
Compounding the crisis, many of Somalia’s internally displaced people (IDPs) are concentrated in urban centers, where they face major protection challenges, including aid diversion by camp gatekeepers, as well as the threat of forced evictions. This is especially true in the capital, Mogadishu, where roughly 184,000 IDPs are living. Security and stability there has improved a great deal since Al Shabab, a US-designated terrorist organization, gave up control of the city. But for IDPs, life is not getting better. A complex network of local powerbrokers – including landowners and public officials – control the displacement camps and regularly divert incoming aid.
In September 2012, Somalia elected a new president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud, who is widely viewed as a positive change from the corrupt and ineffectual regime of his predecessor, Sheik Sharif. But it is too soon to know whether the new government can exert the necessary political pressure to stem the systemic siphoning of aid. Humanitarian organizations, for their part, must take steps to improve transparency and accountability of service delivery.
To the south, in Kenya, there are nearly half a million Somalis living in the Dadaab refugee camp. That camp was established almost 20 years ago with a capacity of 90,000 residents; as of October 2012, it had nearly 468,000. New refugees continue to arrive, but the Kenyan government has suspended full-scale registration. Without being registered, new arrivals cannot access all of the assistance to which they are entitled. In addition, aid operations in Dadaab have been severely hampered by insecurity: several aid workers have been kidnapped, refugees have been targeted for assassination, and Kenyan police have been attacked.
In Ethiopia, there are approximately 215,000 Somali refugees. They live mainly in the Dollo Ado camp, which surpassed its 170,000-resident capacity in October 2012. Many of the new arrivals are fleeing insecurity, harassment, and fear of recruitment by armed groups. The UN and the Ethiopian government are establishing an additional refugee site to accommodate the continuing influx. Fortunately, malnutrition rates in Dollo Ado have declined over the past year, but they are still hovering at or near the emergency threshold of 15 percent.
In addition to engaging on the most pressing challenges in the Horn of Africa, Refugees International has made a long-term commitment to addressing the political and institutional underpinnings of this crisis, and to developing a regional approach to support the Somali people. This includes a focus on the development needs of Somali refugees struggling to live in camps and urban areas in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen.
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.