SOMALIA: Looters sabotage aid efforts in Mogadishu
NAIROBI, 17 November 2011 (IRIN) - The frequent looting of relief aid at
distribution centres in Mogadishu by local or state security agents
seriously undermines efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people, many
of whom have fled areas of Somalia in a state of famine, according to
officials and aid workers.
"Looting of aid is a major problem, especially as it affects the most
vulnerable families in Mogadishu, who rely on humanitarian support to
survive," said Marcel Stoessel, head of the UN Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mogadishu.
"We have been working with the authorities in Mogadishu to improve the
overall security situation in the capital. This is the best way to
facilitate the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most
vulnerable," Stoessel said. "Obviously, we still need to do more."
Stoessel did not discuss who was behind the looting but the government has
acknowledged the involvement of its own agents.
Earlier this month, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) President Sheikh
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed warned that "soldiers and armed militia" would be dealt
with severely if found to be responsible for looting food aid.
Security agents deployed in Mogadishu include TFG soldiers, poorly paid
police and militias under the authority of the city's district
commissioners. After the August withdrawal from Mogadishu of the Al-Shabab
insurgency, such militia groups have grown in importance.
TFG spokesman Abdirahman Omar Yarisow told IRIN the government was serious
about tackling the disruption of food aid.
"We have taken extreme measures, such as taking to military court those who
try to divert the food aid to loot it. For example, recently the military
court sentenced two district commissioners to 10 and 15 years' imprisonment
[respectively]," he said.
He acknowledged that people had been killed and injured when security forces
opened fire during food distributions. "This is not acceptable and there are
investigations currently under way and those who are responsible will face
In one such incident in early August, 10 people were reportedly killed when
TFG troops opened fire during a scramble for food aid in the capital.
Looting "is becoming a daily occurrence and it is mainly done by people
wearing government security force uniforms", said Mohamed Ilmi, a human
rights activist in Mogadishu.
In one of the latest incidents [14 November] in the Tribunka camp for
internally displaced persons (IDPs), Ilmi said, government forces who were
supposed to protect aid distribution fired into the crowd, forcing them to
run for cover, "they then took the food; fortunately there was only one
Ilmi said on many occasions IDPs had been killed, "as happened in Badbaado
camp a few days ago, where at least five were killed".
He said the attacks bore the hallmark of an organized enterprise. "As soon
as they chase the people, trucks come in to carry the loot and the food
immediately ends up in the markets. It is as if they were hired to do it."
He said looting of aid meant for the displaced was becoming a "big
A civil society source, who requested anonymity, told IRIN the problem was
that the government did not have much control over the "so-called security
The source said since Al-Shabab's withdrawal, "young men with guns are
roaming the streets. No one knows who they are or under whose control.
"Until the government removes the weapons from the hands of these young
gangs, the situation will only get worse," the source said.
"Unfortunately they seem busy with other things, but if they don't get the
security situation right, it won't be the IDPs alone who will suffer but all
of us, including them."
Rape on the increase
According to Ilmi, the attacks were not confined to food raids. "There is a
climate of fear in the camps and it has to do with women being raped and
again unfortunately it is mostly men with uniforms," he said.
Ilmi said rape in the IDP camps was rampant. "I don't know of many people
who have been arrested for it."
He expressed concern about the lack of accurate information. "The women
won't report it because either they are afraid of being stigmatized or
attacked again by the perpetrators," Ilmi said.
He said social workers who tried to collect data were sometimes threatened
or even attacked. "You cannot and won't find accurate data but I am sure the
numbers are huge."
The civil society source told IRIN that rape had been a problem before in
Mogadishu "but it has now reached an alarming rate. There are reports of
rape cases in almost all the camps in Mogadishu."
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 300 IDP settlements in
Halima*, an IDP, had just received her food rations on 14 November, along
with hundreds of other families, when armed men started firing into the
crowd, scattering the displaced. "We had just got our food and it was still
on the ground when they opened fire. We ran for our lives. Then they calmly
took our food and put it on trucks that just showed up."
She said the incident was not the first time they had been robbed of their
food. "It happens but we cannot do anything. We cannot even complain or we
will suffer even more."
*Not her real name
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Received on Thu Nov 17 2011 - 18:16:59 EST