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Africa

Somali troops destroy aid camps for thousands of displaced people, leaving them homeless

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 5:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 5:18am

Two weeks after being forcibly evicted from their shelters, thousands of vulnerable families are still living rough in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

Somali security forces went in and destroyed 23 camps for internally displaced people, housing more than 4,000 Somalis, on December 29 and 30 last year, according to the UN.

People say they woke up to bulldozers and soldiers demolishing their shelters. “We were not even given time to collect our belongings,” said Farhia Hussein, a mother of nine.

Two of my children went missing in the chaos ... thank God I found them two days later
Farhia Hussein, mother of six-year-old twins

“People were screaming and running in all directions. Two of my children went missing in the chaos. They are twin sisters, aged six – thank God I found them two days later.”

Hussein, 46, came to the city nine months ago from the Shebelle region. “I was a farmer but I lost everything to the drought and I cannot go back now because the security situation is terrible there,” she said.

“I never thought my own people would treat me this way in Mogadishu, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.”

The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Unocha) said the destruction included health and sanitary facilities, schools, latrines and water points, at a cost of more than US$200,000 of donor money.

Witnesses said the police and military personnel involved in the clearances beat up anyone who tried to resist or question them.

Omar Mohamed, 54, and his eight children now share a makeshift shelter with other families in a nearby camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

I saw a mother who lost her eight-month-old child because of hunger and heat
Omar Mohamed, who lost his home

“It was a nightmare,” he said. “At least my children are alive. I saw a mother who lost her eight-month-old child because of hunger and heat. They were literally sleeping under the sun in the open air.”

Mohamed Ismail Abdullahi, district commissioner of Kahda, where the demolitions took place, said: “The eviction was done for the safety of the IDPs since the area they settled was a disputed private land and the eviction order was issued by a High Court, although there was not a proper notice and it was not well coordinated.”

Aid workers and journalists were not allowed to film.

“Security forces stopped reporters from taking photos. It was done quite swiftly and there is not much [reporting] of the eviction in the local press,” said aid worker Abdiaziz Hussein.

Land and property disputes by powerful local clans have been increasing in the city, thanks to booming real estate developments.

Displaced people, who mostly come from smaller clans, are often caught up in the middle of the dispute.

Famine, conflict and drought displaced one million people throughout Somalia last year alone. Most end up in large towns and cities like Mogadishu where they face being constantly moved on.

In 2015, similar large-scale destruction of such settlements took place in the same Kahda district, with more than 21,000 people forcibly removed from their makeshift shacks.

The district commissioner said only about 600 families had been rehoused so far and they were working hard to shelter the remaining families.

Imagine sharing a small tent with another family of 10. We are basically sleeping in the open air
Farhia Hussein

“We managed to secure land, at least for the coming four years, and will hopefully renew the lease or find an alternative solution but our priority now is to help build shelters for those who lost their properties in the eviction and we call upon all parties including the federal government, the UN and other aid agencies to support these people,” he said.

Farhia Hussein has been taken in by another displaced family whose camp was not affected. “Imagine sharing a small tent with another family of 10,” she said.

“We are basically sleeping in the open air. There are many charities here but there is not enough support.”

Abdiaziz Hussein, who works with a local organisation in the camps, said thousands were in difficulty. “They cannot go back to the camps because the police are still there, guarding the emptied settlements to stop people from coming back,” he said.