NAIROBI (AlertNet) – ‘Gatekeepers’ are siphoning off food aid intended for internally displaced people living in squalid camps in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Refugees International said in a report on Thursday, calling on aid agencies to stop operating via remote control from neighbouring Kenya.
There are some 184,000 internally displaced people in Mogadishu, and some 1.36 million Somalis displaced within the country.
The gatekeepers, linked to powerful militias, landowners and politicians, control the camps through intimidation and force, even denying the displaced access to their homes if their ‘rent’ is in arrears, said the report Gatekeepers and Evictions: Somalia’s Displaced Population at Risk.
“What is happening in these camps has been described as a system of quasi-slavery,” the report’s author, Mark Yarnell, who visited the camps in September, said in a statement.
“IDPs (internally displaced persons) who complain can face severe physical abuse.”
Tens of thousands of Somalis fled to Mogadishu last year, fleeing drought, famine and war, seeking refuge in makeshift shelters made of twigs and plastic.
The city is enjoying an economic boom with improved security under African Union peacekeepers. But few IDPs have returned home, usually because they lack the money to restart their lives and food and security conditions have not really improved in their places of origin.
DO NO HARM
There is intense debate over aid to Somalia, where civil war began in 1991 with the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The Islamist militants, al Shabaab, who controlled Mogadishu until August 2011, have accused aid agencies of politicising humanitarian needs and creating dependency. They have banned most major organisations, such as the World Food Programme and the United Nations refugee agency, from operating in their territory.
Humanitarian actors pursue the ‘do no harm’ principle, to ensure that their aid does not worsen the conflict through, for example, the diversion of aid from civilians to armed groups or intensified fighting over the food rations and other resources.
Refugees International’s report underlines that this principle is key, but also states that “the only immediate action that might end the systemic siphoning of aid from IDP camps is to cut the influx of aid altogether”.
It does not recommend such a drastic course of action, instead calling for aid agencies to exercise greater oversight and improve coordination.
“The lack of effective governance in Mogadishu, along with the 'remote control' approach that aid groups have taken in Somalia, have sustained this abusive system for years,” the report said.
“More must be done to improve the way aid is delivered in Somalia and to ensure it reaches those who need it.”
It gives examples of multiple donors funding the same latrine project and ‘ghost camps’ where tents and latrines are set up with no people living there.
Insecurity has stopped many aid agencies from working in Somalia. Between 2008 and 2010, 47 humanitarian workers were killed in Somalia and 35 abducted.
Most big agencies now operate from Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya. They pay local Somali charities to deliver aid on the ground.
Ken Menhaus, political science professor at Davidson College in the United States, recently called for the international community to make space for Somalis to manage the transition from bullet to ballot.
“We need to make sure that we don’t get in the way,” he said, speaking in Nairobi at a debate organised by the Rift Valley Institute think tank.
“That’s very problematic when you have got armed peacekeeping forces and lots of resources being introduced into a country. In some ways doing harm, or the risk of doing harm, is unavoidable.”
He said that international actors should make sure that there are authorities or accords in place so that warring parties don’t start fighting to capture their aid.