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Somalia’s Second Class Citizens

Saturday December 26, 2015

By Mohamed Moalim 

Siteey* is a single mother of four children who squatters in an area of Mogadishu not too far from central area of the city. Since the death of her husband, she is left with the responsibility of bringing up four children without any support. In order to earn and make ends meet, Siteey works as a casual labourer by offering washing and cleaning services to local host families. Like many others, Siteey and her family live in a “Buul’ – a shelter made from cardboard, textiles and tree branches, which are unable to resist a little rain or wind.

Siteey is amongst the estimated 1.2 million population living in similar conditions across Somalia towns and cities. In Mogadishu alone, it is estimated around 400,000 currently live in appalling conditions, conditions that the many humanitarian organisations and the Somali government acknowledge are no longer sustainable. Many others like Siteey in Mogadishu and its outskirts face the regular threat of evictions from public and private spaces with no alternative land or plans for relocation elsewhere.

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In case you have not figured, I am referering to Internaly displaced persons (IDPs) locally known as “Barakacayaal”. They are Somalis, displaced internally as a result of conflict or natural disasters similar to the drought and the famine of 2011. Informal settlements particularly in the outskirts of the city are increasingly inhabited by IDP communities despertaly in need of humanitatian assistantce and protection. According to US based consultancy Demographia, Mogadishu is second fastest growing city in the world, therefore as part of any urbanisation process,  demand for housing, land and property has already increased, thus many IDPs and the urban poor are relocating to empty lands towards Mogadishu/Afgoye coorridor. Experts warn more and more IDPs, and the urban poor will find themselves living in the outskirts of Mogadishu, and the growing construction of informal settlemetns will soon convert empty lands to slums in the coming months and years. 

So are IDPs treated as second-class citizens in their own country? Of course there is no a clear-cut answer to this statement. Nonetheless, common discourse suggests that Somalia as a nation, has suffered two decades of a dreadful civil war with devastating effect to life and property. To this date, inter-clan conflict, and conflict between the government and Islamist groups still savage in some parts of the country. Hence, many communities are undeniably affected, and still at risk as a result of general poverty caused by any number of factors.

Whilst I acknowledge this argument, I am of the view that root-causes displacement in Somalia is deeper-rooted and far more complex than people assume. Previous studies show that there is a direct correlation between minorities and displacement in Somalia. The findings suggest that a high proportion of those who are dispossessed and displaced, across all regions in Somalia, are from minority groups. Moreover, clan structures in Somalia have afforded those from ‘majority’ clan protection, a social safety net that to some extent mitigates the effect of poverty on individuals and families of these clans.

According to UNHCR, the internally displaced population are estimated to be around 1.2 million, of which a significant number are said to be living in a protracted situation as a result of prolonged conflict and insecurity. A recent IDPs profiling in Mogadishu indicates that number of IDPs population increased around 40,000 since last comprehensive enumeration exercise were conducted in 2011. In another survey, the Somali Disaster Management Agency (DMA) found that out of the 9000 households nearly 50,000 persons profiled, 68% originate from the two Shabelles, that is Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle, regions with a high proportion of minority groups.

It is also interesting to note that in this survey, 65% of the total number of people enumerated are children under the age of 18. Of the 65%, 53% are under 11 with a significant number under the age of 5, raising serious protections issues. 40% of IDPs profiled have intentions to return to their place of origin but many are unable to return to places of habitual residence for fear of insecurity, loss of land/farmland, obsolete skill set and lack of support from the government and humanitarian organizations.

Siteey says that IDPs are seen as burden in society often associated with begging, bad hygiene, some describe their settlements as eyesore, a deliberate and a demeaning term to lower their status in the society. She added that IDPs are marginalized in the process of political, social and economic inclusion and participation in local affairs. Additionally, they are overlooked in the ranks to obtain the limited existing citizenship skills such as civic education in order to learn and understand laws and civic rights and responsibility. They have no access to key institutions and feel they are neither represented nor able to participate in civil society.

Ultimately, it is the government’s responsibility to provide and educate people including IDPs on citizenship and rights in order to provide people with knowledge, confidence and skills to become active citizens, acquiring the skills that enable them to participate in the decisions that shape their future.

In reality, the lives of IDPs, in particular those in and on the outskirts of Mogadishu are controlled by gatekeepers. The term “gatekeepers” is widely used to describe individuals and armed elements in the IDP settlements who exploit the vulnerable status of the IDPs for personal economic gains. Gatekeepers are accused of illegal tax collection from individual IDP households, costs that they argue cover security and social services that they provide to the IDP household. For fear of retribution, IDPs are unable to report violations to authorities or make complaints against gatekeepers, so they don’t risk threat of violence, evictions from their settlements, and what little aid they receive.

Until there is a fundamental change of circumstances, that is, the situation causing displacement ceases to exist and enabling reintegration, voluntary and safe return for IDPs, I am afraid 1.2 million Somalia citizens (IDPs) will remain marginalized and be subsequently excluded access to Somalia’s social, economical and political environment.

The Somali government is under a duty to establish legal status or framework for IDPs as part of its ratification to the Kampala convention, whereby provisions of durable solution is required including integration, resettlement and mechanisms for the provision of protection, especially in the southern regions, in particular areas under the control of government.

The bottom line is that displacement within Somalia will require long- term economic and political solutions. However, unless IDPs rights and status are recognized, the prospect of reconciliation and resettlement will remain slender. Whilst IDPs remain entitled to all the rights and guarantees as citizens of Somalia, they are deprived of their constitutional rights.

*Siteey is not her real name.

Mohamed Moalim is an IDP Advisor to the Somali Disaster Management Agency. You can follow him on twitter: @Wayakii


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