Somali author and former refugee who now calls Maine home. Meet Abdi Iftin.
On March 14, 2018, RI Senior Advocate Mark Yarnell testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on "Somalia’s Current Security and Stability Status." Hosted by the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, the hearing examined the security and humanitarian conditions in Somalia following the near famine in 2017.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it will cut food rations by 30 percent for the hundreds of thousands of Somalis in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya. WFP said the decision is the result of funding shortfalls. However, many of the Somali refugees believe the reductions are the result of a Kenyan government move to close the Dadaab and push the Somali refugees toward “voluntary” repatriation to Somalia.
At present, Somalia remains in the chokehold of a severe, protracted drought. The Somali government, the United Nations, and donor governments, including the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union, deserve credit for acting early to address the risk of famine and avoiding a wide-scale loss of life. But the failure of the most recent rains and a third consecutive season of below normal harvest and pasture have prolonged the crisis and left significant numbers of Somalis destitute. RI traveled to Somalia in July 2017 to assess conditions for Somalis who have fled to urban centers seeking aid.
Somalia is now well into its third consecutive season of a severe drought that, in the last seven months alone, has forced more than 760,000 people to flee their homes in search of food and water. Most come from areas controlled by Al-Shabaab or other non-state armed groups, places where the government and humanitarian agencies have limited to no access. The town of Baidoa, retaken from Al-Shabaab in 2012 and now marginally under state control, has become the only means of survival for much of the rural population across the country’s drought-stricken, south central region.
On July 18, 2017, Refugees International President Eric Schwartz testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development and Multilateral Institutions at a hearing, titled, "The Four Famines: Root Causes and a Multilateral Action Plan." In his testimony, Schwartz focused on the factors leading to famine conditions in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria.
Somalia is again in the throes of another drought that by many accounts is worse than the last. Thankfully, greater government control and a prompt humanitarian response by the government and aid agencies have saved lives, but the scale of displacement is enormous. More than 760,000 Somalis have been displaced across the country since November 2016, 160,000 of them to Mogadishu. Here they are struggling to access assistance and protection in a dangerous and volatile environment.
As 43 organizations working on humanitarian and development issues in some of the world’s poorest countries, we write to ask for your support in providing an additional $1 billion in supplemental funding for fiscal year 2017 in order to adequately respond to famine and famine-like conditions across four countries.
The Kenyan government’s threat to close the Dadaab refugee camp by the end of November would not only endanger the lives of several hundred thousand Somali refugees but has already caused irreparable harm and damage. With no alternative options, some refugees have been coerced into repatriating to Somalia, where insecurity and an ongoing humanitarian crisis continue. The United Nations Refugee Agency’s focus on expediting the pace of returns – through a program that is supported by donors and implemented in partnership with non-governmental organizations – in the face of political pressure from Kenya, promotes large-scale returns that are unlikely to be sustainable. Development and reintegration initiatives in designated areas of return in Somalia need time to take hold; and, in the meantime, support for Somali refugees who remain in Kenya cannot be abandoned.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has never been an easy place to live. Stretching for miles and across arid land in Kenya’s underdeveloped northeast region, Dadaab is home to several hundred thousand refugees, primarily from Somalia, who are seeking refuge from war and hunger in their home country. Dadaab’s residents subside on monthly food rations, struggle to find work among limited opportunities, and face restrictive Kenyan policies that prevent the establishment of anything resembling permanent infrastructure.
Kisimayo, the capital of the southern-most province of Somalia, was recovered from the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization in 2012 by Kenyan and Somali troops. With the change of control, the local government is now actively trying to set up a functioning administration. Yet a mere 10 to 15 km from the city, areas are still under control of the same terrorist group from which many refugees fled in the past decade. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I recently visited Kisimayo to see how the Somali refugees returning from Kenya’s Dadaab camp are faring.
On May 6th, the Kenyan government announced plans to close the Dadaab refugee camp, home to several hundred thousand Somali refugees, by the end of this year. Since December 2014, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), supported by donor governments, has facilitated the return of 28,000 refugees from Dadaab to Somalia. However, with Kenya’s push to close Dadaab, the voluntary nature of the returns has been called into question.
Earlier today, the Kenyan government issued a deeply troubling statement on the closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Citing national security concerns, Ministry of Interior Principal Secretary Dr. Eng Karanja Kibicho announced that “hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement is a major blow to the most basic fundamentals of refugee rights.
Climate change poses serious threats to agriculture and food security globally. Its impacts on agriculture include, but are not limited to, heat waves, pests, drought, desertification, freshwater decline, and biodiversity loss. The global poor, who are most dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, are most vulnerable to climate change impacts on agriculture. They are also the most likely to be forced from their homes when a drought or flooding wipe out agricultural resources on which they depend.
Ja’far Abdikadir* is a shoe shiner in Dagahaley. He has been working for a couple of years as the breadwinner for a desperate family comprising of a mother and siblings. Ja’far at the age of 13 years simultaneously manages to go to school and work as a shoe shiner. The latter is the only source of income for this vulnerable family.
Kenya hosts nearly half a million registered Somali refugees, the vast majority of whom live in the Dadaab camps in the country’s North Eastern province. For over two decades, armed conflict and food shortages have caused major waves of Somalis to flee south, across the Kenyan border for refuge – most recently during the 2011-2012 famine – when war and drought combined to kill over 260,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have also taken refuge in Ethiopia.
For the sake of Somali refugees like Farah, let’s also hope that refugee rights are on the agenda. For years, Somali refugees in Kenya have faced abuse and extortion at the hands of Kenya’s security services. However, as Kenyan government officials have sought to link the broad refugee population with the threat of terrorism, police have used this as leverage to detain, abuse, and extort money from refugees at unprecedented levels.
It’s a sunny morning in the city of Nairobi. I am greeted on a busy street by my friend, Fatima. Fatima tells me about the difficulty she has had since I was last in Nairobi a year ago. She is a refugee from Somalia. She and her mother fled Somalia in 2009 after an attack by the Al Shabab terrorist organization. Her father was killed and her brothers were ‘lost’. She and her mother arrived in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, but her mother did not live long after their arrival. On her own at the age of 14, Fatima, like many young unaccompanied women, chose to come to Nairobi.