Somalia: Mogadishu IDPs Suffer Extortion, Eviction

Photo: UN Photo/Stuart Price
Thousands of people are also living as internally displaced people in the city, after fleeing conflict and drought over the last 20 years (file photo).

Mogadishu/Nairobi — Already struggling to access sporadic humanitarian assistance, internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Somali capital Mogadishu are also facing eviction by returning landowners and unscrupulous camp "gatekeepers" who siphon away what little aid is received, a new report says.

"When [insurgent group] Al-Shabab gave up control of the Somali capital, militia leaders, politicians and influential landowners re-consolidated their control over various parts of the city. This control extends to the displacement camps where international humanitarian assistance is directed," notes the report, Gatekeepers and Evictions: Somalia's Displaced Population at Risk, by Refugees International (RI).

"On site, camp 'gatekeepers,' connected to these local powerbrokers through a complex network of influence, regularly demand a portion of the aid that displaced people receive as 'rent'."

While some gatekeepers provide security in exchange for payment, others treat IDPs "as commodities for their own personal gain", the report says.

Lack of management

RI says the gatekeeper system emerged from "remote-control" service delivery, in which international humanitarian agencies provided assistance through local NGOs, during the years Mogadishu was highly dangerous to operate in.

A June 2012 report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea found that aid agencies working in Somalia "encountered a variety of sophisticated strategies to attract, control and divert humanitarian assistance". "The most pervasive and subtle of these involved the role of IDP camp managers and district officials as 'gatekeepers' to control physical access, manage aid resources and prevent effective monitoring of the use of aid," it found.

Aid agencies say despite the withdrawal of Al-Shabab from Mogadishu in 2011, several militia groups continue to operate in the city. This insecurity and the lack of organizational structures within the camps continue to make it difficult to provide a steady stream of support.

"Access to the IDPs remains difficult because of poor security, and humanitarian services are there but irregular. IDPs are coping by setting up bases in several settlements to access all services," Kilian Kleinschmidt, deputy humanitarian coordinator for the UN in Somalia, told IRIN.

"One major shortcoming has been the lack of management and administrative structures within the IDP settlements, many of which are controlled by unscrupulous NGOs and gatekeepers, who may divert funds and supplies [intended for] the settlements. Some have even been known to set up fake camps, organizing for people to be there when aid agencies are visiting when in actual fact no one lives there," he said.

Tough conditions

"Our shelters, which we build ourselves, cannot even protect you from environmental factors like wind and sun, let alone provide our security. Besides this, it is overcrowded, and one is not even able to get enough space to cook or boil water," said Asha Ahmed, an IDP in Mogadishu.

Healthcare in the camps is also hard to come by. "My womb is in critical condition after I gave birth to a dead infant earlier this year, and I am fearing that this may affect my other subsequent pregnancies," Amina Osman told IRIN.

Thousands of IDPs recently demonstrated in Mogadishu to demand better service provision and housing.

"The demonstration was about long-standing issues, and the IDPS are right to express their feelings. We hope that once the [political] transition comes to an end and the government falls into place, humanitarian issues will not be forgotten," Kleinschmidt said.

"There needs to be a joint effort between line minsters, district commissioners, political leaders, humanitarians and other key stakeholders to ensure sustainable provision of services to the IDPs in Mogadishu."

He stressed the need for proper policy on IDP settlements, without which humanitarian action would continue to be "sporadic and unpredictable".

There are no concrete population statistics on the number of IDPs in Mogadishu, but a 2012 survey by the International Committee of the Red Crescent estimated that the number could be as high as 400,000, with 15 percent being urban poor originally from the city.

Floods displace thousands in Beletweyne

"IDPs are living in very bad conditions with few humanitarian standards met. We had hoped that many would return after the end of the 2011 drought, but that has not really happened since many of the IDPs found livelihoods in the booming city," Kleinschmidt said.

"When AMISOM [the African Union Mission in Somalia] took Afgooye [a town 25km west of Mogadishu] in February, many of the IDPs there moved to Mogadishu; many of them have joined the IDPs within and on the outskirts of the city."

Better aid monitoring

The RI report also highlights eviction as a major problem faced by Mogadishu IDPs.

"As Mogadishu develops, businessmen, returning members of the Somali diaspora and government officials are all seeking to reclaim land where IDPs have settled," it states. "Both Somalia's new government and its donors must ensure that any urban planning and development takes into consideration the impact on IDPs."

The report urges the UN and international NGOs to increase their presence in IDP camps and improve their monitoring of aid delivery, recommending that donor nations increase their funding for monitoring and evaluation. It also says the new Somali government "must hold local officials to account for the theft of aid and prevent any forced evictions of displaced persons or communities that violate international humanitarian law".

Kleinschmidt noted that several UN agencies and international NGOs were increasing their presence within Somalia. He said 14 UN agencies and NGOs have started reorganizing one of the largest and most notorious IDP settlements, organizing the services' shelters in a structured manner to promote ease of access.

"Now that most of the city is fairly accessible, mapping of settlements and service provision is ongoing... while an interagency effort has begun profiling the city's IDP population to better understand who they are," he said.

Improving security in the camps is also crucial for the expansion of humanitarian assistance. "Security is a precondition for the provision of services. We need stronger policing around the camps. AMISOM police is working with local police to address the issue of militias in the city who are responsible for insecurity. The return of the rule of law is crucial. UNDP's rule of law programme, in cooperation with the humanitarians, is trying to ensure that security in IDP settlements is provided by police," he said.

"The solution is not to pour more food and supplies [into the city] if they are not going to reach their intended beneficiaries but to change the security and governance paradigm," Kleinschmidt added.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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