12 March 2014

Somalia: Mogadishu More Dangerous for Aid Workers Now Than Under Al Shabaab - U.N.

Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price
Amisom troops (file photo).

It is more dangerous for humanitarians to work in the Somali capital today than it was when parts of the city were controlled by the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, a senior United Nations official said.

This makes it very hard for aid workers to help nearly 370,000 internally displaced people (IDP), mainly women and children, living in squalid camps scattered around Mogadishu and terrorised by the militias that run them, Edem Wosornu, acting head of office for OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Somalia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Al Shabaab ruled most of southern Somalia from 2006 until 2011, when African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces drove them out of Mogadishu and other urban areas.

The militants are still able to hit targets in government-controlled parts of the capital, and across the region, at will.

"I have been covering Somalia for the last three years and this is the worst it's been," Wosornu said.

"It's even worse than when al Shabaab was in control of a majority of the districts in Mogadishu because you knew which areas not to go to and you knew which areas were so-called secure. You were driving in Casspirs [landmine-protected armoured vehicles] with Amisom and you knew that you were in a sort of war zone."


Humanitarians expanded their presence in Mogadishu after al Shabaab was driven from the city, relocating staff who had been working out of neighbouring Kenya.

An attack on the main U.N. compound in Mogadishu in June last year, which killed at least 22 people, proved a game changer.

"June 19 was a categoric blow," said Wosornu. "The whole landscape changed."

OCHA had 22 staff based in Mogadishu at the time, including nine international staff. Six were in the U.N. compound when it was attacked, she said, and as a result of the attack OCHA reduced its staffing in the capital to two.

The security situation remains precarious. In the past few weeks, Mogadishu has been hit by a series of suicide bombs, including an attack on the president's compound on Feb. 21 which killed at least 11 people.

Uganda plans to send about 400 extra troops to protect U.N. personnel in Mogadishu in response to a U.N. request.

The attacks are making it hard for humanitarians to reach those in need.

Mogadishu is home to some 369,000 IDPs, living in hundreds of ramshackle settlements scattered across the city. Most are women and children who have fled famine and war.

The militias who run the squalid camps often rape women and girls in their tents and extort aid, relief workers say.

"The IDPs live in deplorable conditions," said Wosornu. "The camps are just appalling."

She tried to visit one of the camps on Feb. 12 with OCHA's operations director John Ging.

"When we were in the camp we heard gunshots, and the U.N. Department of Safety and Security had to ask us to get out of the camp immediately," she said.

"The insecurity in Mogadishu doesn't allow us to do our work the way we want to… It's not massive assistance delivery because we have serious security concerns."

The government's plans to relocate the IDPs to a safer site have stalled because it has been unable to secure control of the proposed site in Dayniile District on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

"You are looking at Dayniile which is way out of town, which is very insecure, which was the last place to be secured from al Shabaab by Amisom and the Somali National Army, and this is the place you are going to send IDPs to?" asked Wosornu.

The government is also preoccupied with major political challenges.

"The issue of the willingness and the ability of the government should not be looked at lightly. You just had a massive cabinet reshuffle, the vote of no confidence for the prime minister… their president was almost killed… and there is the U.N. harping on about security in IDP camps," Wosornu said. - Thomson Reuters Foundation

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