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Somalia is trying to address long-term displacement, and the future is promising 

Mark Yarnell from Refugees International reports that the Somali Government is taking positive steps to address internal displacement and while there is still a long way to go, the future is promising.

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IDPs who Refugee International spoke with feel uncertain about their future in Mogadishu but most said they could not go back home. Below right: A shelter in IDP sites visited by Refugee International were makeshift and provided little support. Photos: Refugee International

Somalia, notorious for persistent insecurity and recurring humanitarian crises, including a recent locust outbreak, is now on the leading edge of seeking to address long-term internal displacement. Last year, the government adopted policies and guidelines aimed at protecting the rights of internally displaced people (IDPs) and for supporting local integration into the cities where many have fled. On the donor side, development institutions are stepping forward with increased funding. Challenges remain for implementing the new policies at scale, but this positive momentum must be capitalised upon. 

When I was in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, in October, I met a woman named Rabaa. She is originally from Baidoa in South West Somalia, but she fled to Mogadishu in 1992 when her hometown became engulfed in conflict as Somalia descended into civil war. Even though she arrived in Mogadishu almost three decades ago, she told me: “I still consider myself displaced.” Indeed, she lives in a makeshift shelter in the inner-city on land that she does not own. “If I get a house and if I get a job, then I will consider myself not displaced,” she added. Rabaa’s situation is not unique.

There are an estimated 2.6 million IDPs in Somalia, including around half a million in Mogadishu. While some continue to arrive daily because of ongoing conflict, as well as climate factors, such as drought and flooding, most were displaced from their home areas years ago – unable to return and still in need of emergency assistance.

In Mogadishu, most IDPs live in settlements with dilapidated shelters squashed close together, in unsanitary conditions, and lacking enough access to critical services, like health care and education. They face the constant threat of eviction by landowners seeking to reclaim the land and are at the mercy of settlement ‘gatekeepers’ who are connected to the landowners and often take a portion of aid as rent from IDPs.      

Fortunately, the Somali government, with the support of international organisations, is taking important steps to improve the situation and address protracted displacement. Early last year, the Mogadishu local administration adopted its first-ever IDP policy that promotes the rights and well-being of displaced people and it established a Durable Solutions Unit in the mayor’s office. At the federal level, the government not only adopted a national IDP policy, but also launched National Evictions Guidelines that aim at preventing forced, short-notice evictions without alternative land and housing options. Additionally, the government created a Durable Solutions Secretariat to co-ordinate support measures for IDPs, such as improving access to secure land tenure. It also ratified the Kampala Convention, a legally binding agreement that affirms the rights of IDPs in Africa.  

At the same time, development institutions, such as the World Bank, are increasing funding for capacity building, as well infrastructure projects to support both IDPs and the communities that host them. The combination of the new policy frameworks with additional development financing is an opportunity to improve access to basic services, while also supporting local integration for displaced people. 

In a context as challenging and dangerous as Somalia, achieving lasting, durable solutions is no easy task. But the government is on the right track, and this moment must not be lost.

Mark Yarnell is senior advocate and UN liaison for Refugees International where his work focuses primarily on forced displacement in sub-Saharan Africa. He is the author of the recently published field report Durable Solutions in Somalia: Moving from Policies to Practice for IDPs in Mogadishu. Follow him on Twitter @yarnellmark 

Mark Yarnell, 10/02/2020
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