Somalia: hidden catastrophe needs attention, ACT says
With 1.5 million people - just under 10 percent of its population - forced from their homes by fighting, aid relief inside the country remains critical. Over the borders, another 600,000 Somalis are sheltering as refugees, living mainly in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia.
After Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia generates the highest number of refugees - whose primary reason for wanting to get out is to flee conflict, economic collapse and drought, according to the UNHCR. From the beginning of this year alone, over 60,000 people were displaced from around Mogadishu.
Last week, dozens of civilians were killed and scores wounded in fighting in Mogadishu. In the same week, the African Union said it would add 4000 troops to its peace force in Somalia, which is trying to keep the government in office from rebels fighting to topple the Western-backed government.
The overwhelming need of the Somali people underscores an initiative by ACT members working in Somalia to later this year issue an appeal for assistance for displaced people and refugees. This humanitarian crisis - or indeed the entire country - rarely makes the news beyond reports of piracy at sea. As an emergency the world has forgotten about, Somalia is a prime example.
Thousands killed, left disabled
Since 1991, clashes between ethnic groups have resulted in the death of many and caused immeasurable economic and social destruction. Mortar fire and weaponry have left thousands of people disabled and living in desperate situations. A third of Somalis survive with what little they receive from relatives.
But many people with disabilities like Abdulahi Ahmed Gedi have nowhere to go and no-one to support them. Gedi, in his early 80s, lives in an old makeshift house in a camp on the fringes of Mogadishu. He used to live together with his wife, five children and a brother.
On January 3, a mortar hit his house, killing his entire family and destroying the building. "I'm now facing great life challenges," Gedi says. "I can particularly mention the life dissatisfaction I am in. The future is very bleak for me." In losing his people, he has lost his "only tower of strength". As well as being homeless, he doesn't get enough food, water and medicine, and is reduced to working as a beggar.
Aqil Mohamed Farah is 46 and has been displaced now for 18 years. The father of three daughters and three sons contacted trachoma without knowing its symptoms and lost his eyesight. Poor sanitation in the camp he lives was the cause of the infection.
Fighting in Mogadishu forced him into the camp. "When it happened, we thought life could be normal in a few days but that was not the case. The fight continued for weeks, months and now years." Aqil tried earning a living by subsistence farming but had to give up due to continuous displacement caused by the severe conflict in and around Mogadishu.
Forced over borders
Somalia's strife has also sent hundreds of thousands of Somalis into exile in neighbouring countries. Violence and insecurity in south and central Somalia have considerably reduced the regions aid agencies can work, compelling them to move or evacuate international workers to safer places. Kidnappings of aid workers, followed by ransom demands, are major obstacles to humanitarian operations in Somalia.
Cycles of drought and flood have destroyed crops and livestock, and hikes in food and fuel costs have worsened the crisis, sending more people to flee the country. Many aid agencies, whose mandate is to extend the humanitarian hand to these people, have also fled the country, fearing for their safety. ACT members are among the few persistent humanitarian agencies left.
In Ethiopia alone, nearly 2000 asylum seekers have sought refuge in the last four months. ACT member the Lutheran World Federation is one of the United Nations main partners helping refugees when they arrive. Aid agencies working for Somali refugees in Ethiopia struggle to provide even minimum levels of aid, let alone support new asylum seekers.
The weary faces of Abdurrahman, a former journalist for Somalia's national news agency, and his wife Faduma reveal the hardship of their life. Travelling along with their two children and a friend, the couples ran away from their village in Mogadishu to escape the on-going brutal war there. "We didn't even know our destination when we left Somalia. We simply joined a caravan paying US$ 200," Faduma recalls of their long journey to Ethiopia.
Faduma is pregnant, expecting to give birth in a few months but she and her husband are still optimistic of seeing brighter days. She knows this will only happen with continued support from aid agencies.
ACT members in Somalia plan to issue a fresh appeal to provide much-needed basic services to displaced people in the country and refugees in neighbouring countries. The appeal is expected to be issued in the coming month.