For the past 21 years the nation of Somalia has been enshrouded in an ever burning fire of civil war. Since the collapse of its central government in 1991, Somalia has been in a state of civil war and anarchy. Countless millions of lives have been lost and millions more have been gifted with the promise of death as sovereign countries and international organisations alike have stood by and watched, unable and unwilling to bring a stop to the horrific bloodshed.
Of those Somalis fortunate enough to escape their bloodshed, only a modest minority make to the western world. Most Somali's become internally displaced in their own land or are housed as refugee in camps in the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. They flee often with little more than the cloths on their back in search of safety and place to live to see another day. They walk hundreds of miles with the hot sun and sand searing their bodies in search of food, shelter, medical care and most importantly, safety. However, those who find themselves in these camps (Dolo Ado, Dadaab, Kakuma, Ifo etc.) come face to face yet again with the wholesale brutality that caused them to flee their homeland.
Disproportionately, millions of women and children have perished as a result of the war and disproportionately they are the ones who occupy the camps. Some have been born there and know no other home. They live with the fact of daily rape, beatings, intimidation and even death. These camps are overcrowded, housing upwards of 300,000 people. They do not have adequate shelter, healthcare, education, food, or fresh water. Yet, year after year and even with the drought induced famine; the number one reason that the Somali people are flocking to the camps is for safety.
Some of the refugee camps housing the displaced from the Somali war are the largest in the world. Security in these camps has been a known problem. For the women and children, the beatings and the rapes are part of everyday life. The shame and health complications are silenced and normalised. The only difference in security from the camps to the streets of Mogadishu is the heavy gunfire or "music." In essence the camps are Mogadishu without the music. Collecting wood or water is a necessary feat that can get you violently attacked, beaten, raped or even killed.
The Kenyan police around camps are there to primary protect the safety of Kenya, they subsist on bribes therefore eliciting their help can create further problems. The staff of aid organisations are unable to protect or deter, fearing for the safety of their own lives in their secured compounds. The solution to the number one problem affecting Somali’s as a whole and particularly those in the camps will not be brought by the Kenyan police, or following through with current security partnerships. The solutions must be brought in partnership with the refugees who have first-hand knowledge of the problems, they must be not only listened to but heard.
Women and children need outreach workshops on self-defence; they need to be educated in the prevention of security lapses. Safer strategies for the collection of water and firewood must be implemented. Strategies like armed escorts to watering holes and firewood collection location will decrease the opportunities for the perpetrators. Monies need to be allocated for night lighting for the camps, a system to call for security when in danger, night patrol and cameras in high risk areas.
The high number of rape victims that occur so often in the refugee camps need to be addressed and made priority. The diminutive action taken to prevent rape needs to improve dramatically as well as the level of awareness which is more less being concealed. The security and protection system that has been put in place to protect Somali refugees for the past two decades has been defective as well as a gruelling experience for the refugees. With the help of the large Somali diaspora, international communities, government intervention and global awareness we can change this and make a difference to the lives of the many thousand Somali refugees. We need to work together to raise more awareness and establish a new protection system to prevent the dehumanising torture and abuse these vulnerable Somali's have to face on a daily basis.
It is with a paramount urgency and esteemed respect that I write to you as an advocate of the Somali women and children situated in the UNHCR managed camps of Dolo Ado ‘Hilaweyn’ camp. I write to you as a fellow human being and because you have the power and influence to make significant improvement on the living conditions of at least thousands of refugees. Somalia has been in war for the past 21 years which has affected millions of women and children who have been fleeing in their thousands to look for security, food and shelter. The long duration of this disaster has meant the Somali women and children have been suffering in silence since 1991. Having no power or control over their lives Somali refugees have relied on international aid organisations and communities for support. Lack of media awareness has forced these refugees into a shell of darkness with no visible light at the end of tunnel. Even with the traumatic effect of the war naturally glooming over their shoulders; Somali’s are still endured with a constant daily battle of survival.
I am writing this email as a request for support in protecting the rights and welfare of thousands of Somali refugees under your care. I recently returned from filming a BBC3 documentary which enabled me to return to Somalia where I was originally born. The 60 minute programme that will be aired in the United Kingdom on the 30th of April at 9 pm will highlight the on-going struggle Somali’s have to face for example; the conditions in the refugee camps and the long over-due war in Mogadishu. The number of sexual abuses that occur in the refugee camps was extraordinarily high in comparison to the number of rapes recorded. UNHCR has put into place many services which are currently available to assist victims of rape however all efforts to prevent rape in the refugee camps was very rare. I was further shocked when the women themselves approached me personally to voice their endless battle of sexual abuse and lack of police interference or government intervention. In the documentary I interviewed two young Somali women who had been previously gang raped by a group of men who lived locally in the area. As a result of collecting firewood which is the only means for cooking in the refugee camps, the group of men held both women captive for many hours where they took turns to sexually abuse and violently beat the Somali women refugees. Both women were released late hours in the evening on the condition that they didn’t return to the area to collect firewood and if they did their lives would be at risk.
When the Somali women emphasised the torture of life as refugees I was appalled to discover the endemic nature of the occurrence of rape in the camps. Failure of UNHCR tackling this issue turned the Somali refugees into protesting against the lack of security and protection in the camps outside the UNHCR compound in Dolo Ado. The refugees were hopeless therefore turned to myself with the hope that airing their issue to the world their voices would be heard so they could escape from their punishing lives. I felt extremely safe during my ten days in a secure compound as a guest of UNHCR in comparison to the thousands of vulnerable Somali’s refugees on deserted lands who are hosted by UNHCR. One of the main laws of UNHCR is to protect refugees thus making it extremely disheartening to see major concerns like sexual abuse in refugee camps hardly ever raised in the media, in the United Kingdom or in fact anywhere else. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Including the support of the large Somali diaspora, international agencies, government institutions and authorities, UNHCR needs to establish a beneficial system where Somali women within the 'Hilaweyn' refugee camp our guarded from rape and gender based violence.
Women and children need outreach workshops on self-defence; they need to be educated in the prevention of security lapses. Safer strategies for the collection of water and firewood must be implemented. Strategies like armed escorts to watering holes and firewood collection location will decrease the opportunities for the perpetrators. Women proceeding into outskirts only in large groups or men collecting the firewood with the women or even a half way meeting point will prevent sexual abuse in the refugee camps. Global awareness will assist in raising money for night light in the camps, a safe system to call for security when in danger, night patrol and cameras in high risk areas. This will assist in ensuring and shielding the well-fare of not only the mental mind state of Somali women and children but also protect their health and future. Somali refugees are exploited, mistreated, branded inferior and completely disregarded as well as viewed as the forgotten society. Over two decades of neglect from the world by now Somali refugees deserve to be priority and be worthy of their rights as humans.