FEATURE-Rape, corruption in camps blight lives of Somali displaced
Thu Jan 26, 2012 11:00am GMT
By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU, Jan 26 (AlertNet) - Nurto Isak's food rations are feeding her,
her three children, and -- she suspects -- the militiamen guarding the camp
in Mogadishu where she and other uprooted Somalis have taken refuge.
The city is host to more than 180,000 internally displaced people (IDPs)
who, like Isak, have fled a killer combination of conflict, drought and
hunger back home.
Many risk long, difficult journeys to reach the capital, their sights set on
the numerous aid agencies that have set up relief operations to hand out
food and treat malnutrition there.
Yet many people at various IDP settlements in the war-torn city complain
that food aid is not reaching them and accuse local aid workers working for
international and Somali NGOs of taking it to line their own pockets.
"Half of the rations intended for our camp is given to the warlord whose
militia are said to be guarding us," Isak told AlertNet
(www.trust.org/alertnet), a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters
Many of the displaced said women were being raped in camps, while others
lamented a lack of jobs, health clinics and schools despite the increased
presence of aid groups.
Six months after famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the Horn of Africa
country remains in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, with 4 million people
in need of aid, according to U.N. figures.
However, fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels, combined
with attacks on aid workers and a history of aid being manipulated for
political gain, means Somalia is one of the toughest countries for relief
agencies to operate in.
As such, it is a classic case study of the obstacles to effective aid as
highlighted in an AlertNet poll of 41 leading relief agencies published on
In the survey, more than half the experts cited increasingly complex
disasters as one of the biggest challenges to aid delivery -- with the use
of aid as a political weapon and violence against relief workers also
Last month two staff working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were shot
dead by a colleague in Mogadishu, while earlier this month the International
Committee of the Red Cross suspended food distribution to 1.1 million people
after al Shabaab rebels blocked deliveries to areas under the militant
"This is one of the most complex environments for humanitarians," said U.N.
humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, in response to the claims
by displaced people that food rations were being sold by local aid workers.
"Despite continued efforts to strengthen our monitoring systems, allegations
still and will continue," he said in a statement to AlertNet.
Some of the IDP camps -- little more than a clutch of flimsy shelters made
of sticks and cloth -- are directly and indirectly run by government forces
or warlords linked to the government, residents say.
Shukri Aden, a resident at another camp, said she had witnessed traders
buying food supplies directly from a number of local staff working for NGOs
and aid agencies responsible for distributing food in her camp.
"Traders park their cars and lorries beside the camp when it is food
distribution day," the mother of six said.
Once a month residents of the camps are handed a card that allows them to
collect 25 kg of rice, 25 kg of wheat flour, 10 kg of sugar and 5 litres of
cooking oil, Aden said.
But often they are pressured into handing their rations to a local aid
worker who pays them around $5 each -- hardly enough to buy food for a day.
The aid worker then sells the food at a marked-up price to a trader, earning
thousands of dollars in profits, she said.
"They give us cards to take food but we rarely receive the ration," said
Aden, who has taken to begging and washing clothes to scrape together a few
more shillings to feed her family.
RAPED AT GUNPOINT
A few miles away in Dinsoor IDP camp, Kadija Mohamed, 36, told AlertNet she
"Three armed men in government uniform came into the camp. The strongest one
shone a powerful torch in my eyes, he strangled me and then raped me in
front of my crying kids," she said.
Mohamed, a widow, said she waited for sunrise before making her way to a
nearby clinic only to be told there were no doctors.
"Later the camp leaders brought me some painkillers. Now I'm OK but I do not
know what diseases I caught from the rape. I have nowhere to go for a
check-up," Mohamed said. "We live in these makeshift shelters. We have no
aid agency or government to protect us at night. We are at God's mercy."
Isak also said rape was common in her camp.
"They rape even mothers at gunpoint at night -- and we are threatened to
death should we disclose it," she said. "The makeshift shelters have no
lockable doors, so these men just come in at night and lie on you."
In its Jan. 18 report, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA) said sexual violence against women and girls was continuing
in Somalia. It also said security in the IDP settlements was insufficient
and at risk of deteriorating.
QUESTION OF PRIORITIES
Mohamed's brother, Macalim Ibrahim, 40, reserved his biggest criticism for
government officials and local aid workers.
"These local aid workers are building houses with the sale of food intended
for the poor displaced people like us," he told AlertNet. "We are deprived
and yet have no government or aid agencies to ask for help."
He also questioned the effectiveness of some of the aid that has been given.
"Many NGOs come, take our photos, and never come back. For example, one aid
agency came and erected this school building made of iron sheets," Ibrahim
"We brought our kids to the school but it did not work more than 7 days. The
guys took footage of the kids at school and never came back. And the
"Other aid agencies came and built these latrines. That is good but a hungry
man never goes to the toilet. We need food and water to survive," he said.
(Additional reporting by Katy Migiro in Nairobi) (AlertNet is a humanitarian
news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit
> www.trust.org/alertnet) (Writing by Katie
Nguyen; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Jan 26 2012 - 13:05:34 EST