New Path for Somali Refugees

Approximately 2.6 million Somalis currently are displaced within their own country. The largest concentration, around half a million, are in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Some were displaced nearly 30 years ago, whereas others continue to arrive in the city on a daily basis due to conflict and climate factors. In October 2019, a team from Refugees International traveled to Mogadishu to assess the current situation and analyze opportunities for progress on durable solutions.

Refugees International’s Mark Yarnell traveled to Mogadishu in October to assess the current situation and analyze opportunities for progress. Based on interviews with displaced people, local and federal government officials, UN aid agencies, development institutions, foreign embassies, and international NGOs, his new report released on 16th December 2019, Durable Solutions in Somalia: Moving From Policies to Practice for IDPs in Mogadishurecommends a path forward to support solutions for those who have been displaced.

Crossover Kenya interviewed Senior Advocate and UN Liaison Mark Yarnell, on his report, Durable Solutions in Somalia: Moving From Policies to Practice for IDPs in Mogadishu.

The Somali government is making strikes to develop policies and frameworks that protect the rights of the 2.6 million Somalis that are displaced within their own country and promote durable solutions for them, including support for eviction rights, alternative land and housing options, and local integration efforts.

But policies have yet to translate to tangible progress for many, including the half a million displaced Somalis living in the capitol city of Mogadishu.

Somalia will continue to face major humanitarian crises in the years to come that will require a significant international response. For now, the deadly combination of conflict and climate events, such as drought and flooding, has left more than 5 million Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance around the country and has continued to displace more people daily. However, these challenges should not detract from the progress that has been made on durable solutions policies and the need to move forward with implementation.

C: What is the definition of a Refugee according to you?

MY: The legal definition of a refugee is a person who ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’ Essentially, it is someone who is forced to flee their country because of conflict and/or a well-founded fear of persecution.

An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who is forced to flee their home because of conflict, violence, persecution, and/or natural disasters but have not left their country.

According to UNHCR, there currently around 750,000 Somali refugees living in neighboring countries, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and there are 2.6 million Somali IDPs.

C: What do you mean by “durable solutions” and how did this concept start?

MY: When a person is displaced, they have specific assistance and protection needs are a result of having been forced from their home – whether related to health, food, shelter, or education, among others. Once a person no longer has needs that are a result of their displacement, then a durable solution has achieved. For some, that means being able to return to their home areas and resume their livelihoods as before they fled. For others, it means being able to integrate locally in the place where they fled with full access to basic services. For others, it might mean relocating to a new area where they can re-start their lives. The concept began to pick up traction in recent years with the recognition that so many displaced people are in protracted situations and that a humanitarian approach alone would not lead to lasting, durable solutions.

C: What is stopping the policy from being implemented? After all this is for the benefit of the IDPs and the country?

MY: The government has good policies, but they need funding, capacity support, and an improvement in the security situation for implementation to really take root.

C: Somalis are entrepreneurial in nature, take Kenya’s property market, then why do they still need international support to avoid the humanitarian crisis?

MY: Due to the combination of conflict and climate disasters over the past several decades, many Somalis lost everything. Humanitarian assistance doesn’t solve these issues but it can help. For example, in 2017, in the midst of persistent and widespread drought, a strong humanitarian response helped prevent a deadly famine from occurring.

C: What are some professional obstacles that you encountered in filing this report?

MY: We always try to speak with as many displaced people as possible to hear first-hand what their challenges and priorities are. On this trip, we were able to travel around Mogadishu and speak to a number of displaced communities, but insecurity in certain areas limited this to a degree.

C: What will the rescue of this operation mean to you personally?

MY: Good policies are one thing, but anything that can be done to contribute to concrete benefits for people who have experienced years of hardship will mean a great deal.

C: Will the world ever be free of a refugee crisis?

MY: As long as there is conflict, there will be refugees. The more that countries can cooperate to prevent and resolve conflict, then fewer people will be forced from their homes.