Somalia: Future Still Bleak for the Displaced in Mogadishu

Somalia has had a legitimate government for the last 12 months and its economy is picking up. But this change for the better is having little impact on the lives of more than 300,000 displaced persons in Mogadishu.

A densely populated emergency settlement of makeshift huts made of tree branches, plastic bags, sheeting, old clothes and rags, the Darwish displacement camp is little different from other Somalian refugee camps in Mogadishu. Four hundred people share a latrine – even though 50 is the upper limit under international standards for disaster relief. But this not just a temporary disaster, it is everyday life for about 300,000 people.

Abay Nur Ibrahim stands in front of one of the makeshift huts. “There are about ten of us in my family,” explained the 48-year old, who holds one of her five grandchildren in her arms. One of the ten is her mother, who is elderly and blind. The family share two cramped huts. There is nowhere else for them to go.

Sanitation remains a pressing problem in the displaced camps in Mogadishu

Houses occupied on arrival

There are an estimated 370,000 displaced persons in Mogadishu. The mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamoud Ahmed, wants them relocated as soon as possible. “The conditions in these camps are inhumane. There are hardly any sanitation facilities, water wells or medical care centers,” he explained.

Somalis who fled abroad have started returning home since a legitimate government was reinstated. On arrival, many found their land or houses occupied by other Somalis who had been displaced inside the country.

In September 2012, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud was elected as the country’s first legitimate president in 22 years. The economy has started to pick up. Turkey and Britain have both opened embassies in Somalia. The prospects for a brighter future appear better than they have been for a long time.

Families in the displaced persons’ camps barely have enough to eat

Malnutrition still a problem

A month ago Abay Nur Ibrahim gave birth to triplets in the camp. Her elder daughter, Nimo said she’s “worried about the future.” Abay explained that the women in the camp are out of work. “My husband also doesn’t earn much,” she said.

As a day laborer, he earns just enough to buy two meals of beans, corn and flour. On bad days, he comes home empty handed and there is nothing to eat.

The family fled to Mogadishu to escape the famine that hit Somalia two years ago. It claimed the lives of almost 260,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012.

Abay Nur Ibrahim and her family were lucky to have survived. All their possessions, two mattresses, two mosquito nets, a plastic sheet and pans were given to them by the Britain-based charity Save the Children. The charity and other NGOs dug wells, built latrines, and provided medical assistance for the displaced persons. “But that is too little,” said Save the Childern’s Susan Collyer. “After all, the main indicators show the people are still living in difficult conditions,” she said. The rate of malnutrition among displaced people in Mogadishu stands at 16 percent. The World Health Organization’s threshold before classification as an emergency is 15 percent.

Concern about what the future may hold

Collyer says the situation in the camp has improved in the last two years. “But when we speak to the camp residents, we always hear over and again, that they are getting less help than they did a year ago.” Many are indeed getting less than before. A year ago, Save the Children was able to distribute food to residents on a regular basis. “We had to halt the program because our funding stopped,.” said Collyer. Many Somali families still continue to need regular assistance with food.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud was the first legitimate president to be elected in Somalia in 22 years

But funding still suffices for the medical care centers. Infants and children are regularly weighed and fed. Abay Ibrahim’s children are apparently only just above the critical malnutrition level. Despite the hardship, the two women aren’t complaining. “I won’t see much of the economic recovery,” Abay admits “but that doesn’t bother me. I will simply continue to lead my life.”

The mother and daughter are worried about the government’s resettlement plans. In the camp, whatever the hardships, they feel relatively safe. But if they are moved elsewhere? Many refugees in other camps in the city have faced threats, women have been exposed to sexual violence.

International aid agencies have also voiced concern about the resettlement plans.