Incessant fighting, recurrent droughts and floods, and the worst locust invasion in more than 25 years are forcing more people to flee their homes in Somalia, leading to severe overcrowding and an intensifying risk of COVID-19 among internally displaced people (IDP), Amnesty International said today.
By 19 July, there were 3,119 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Somalia, almost half recorded in Banadir region, according to the Ministry of Health. Banadir, where Mogadishu is located, hosts about 500,000 IDPs spread in some 700 settlements. They are grappling with forced evictions, lack of jobs and inadequate health services in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The vast majority of IDPs are living in overflowing under-serviced camps where clean water and sanitation is inadequate and access to healthcare is extremely limited,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Somalia authorities and international partners must ensure that the rights to water, sanitation, health and adequate housing for IDPs are fulfilled, in line with international human rights standards and guidelines when responding to COVID-19.”
In June and July 2020, Amnesty International remotely interviewed over 30 people, including humanitarian workers and 20 IDPs in camps in Kahda, Weydow and Daynile within Banadir region. The organisation also reviewed media reports, confidential NGO data and statements from the Somalia government and international organisations relating to IDPs and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those interviewed said access to health care was limited and there were no COVID-19 testing facilities in IDP camps. Due to night curfews and other restrictions healthcare services had been significantly scaled down.
“Halima Mohamed”, a mother of seven in Dayah IDP camp in Kahda, who fled from conflict in Lower Shabelle region, had no choice but to give birth in her makeshift house in May. “There was no midwife and I was told the clinic was closed at the time, so I had to give birth at home. We were lucky; both my twin baby boys and I survived by the grace of God.”
Three humanitarian workers working with NGOs that support IDP camps in Mogadishu said the scaled down health services was due to lack of funding, restrictions on movement and measures to ease crowding at health facilities.
“We have reduced our operations by almost half since COVID-19 struck. These days we only allow a maximum of 10 to 15 patients per day in our clinics in the IDP camps in Weydow neighbourhood,” one of them said.
Prior to COVID-19, they attended to an average of 50 people per day.
Many IDPs, like other poor people in Mogadishu, earned an income from informal work but the COVID-19 measures rendered them jobless, and they are therefore unable to meet basic needs such as buying water.
“Fatma Bashir”, a single mother of eight children in Weydow, said: “I used to make a living by washing clothes for people in Mogadishu, but since this corona disease started, people are afraid; they do not allow us to enter their homes. Now I have to borrow money to even buy water and food.”
“Somalia authorities and humanitarian agencies should consider ways of safely scaling up operations to provide this highly vulnerable group with access to essential services including emergency relief or direct cash transfers to reduce their susceptibility to COVID-19 and uphold their right to an adequate standard of living,” said Deprose Muchena.
With IDP camps full to capacity, many displaced families are forced to set up informal structures on vacant private land where they are constantly forcefully evicted. Two leaders of IDP camps in Kahda said 222 families in their camps had been forcefully evicted from private land in April 2020. The Norwegian Refugee Council documents that 33,400 IDPs have been evicted in Mogadishu since January 2020.
One camp leader, “Nasra Ali”, said: “I received more than 100 families who fled from Janale in June. I relocated some to other camps, but 40 families are stranded in my camp. They do not have plastic sheets to construct makeshift houses. It is raining and they do not have blankets to keep themselves warm. I hope they don’t get sick in these conditions.”
Amnesty International interviewed six families who had been forcefully evicted by landowners repossessing their land between March and June 2020. One of them, “Nuriya Hassan”, a 40-year-old mother of five at Dayah camp in Kahda said she has been forcefully evicted three times since September last year.”
Forced evictions constitute violation of a range of human rights including the right to adequate housing and are therefore prohibited in all circumstances. During COVID-19, forced evictions deny people housing, one of the most significant protective measures against the virus.
“Authorities must place a moratorium on forced evictions including in IDP settlements. They must also ensure that anyone who has been rendered homeless as a result of forced evictions is immediately provided with alternative safe housing. When authorities are unable to do this, they should seek international assistance” said Deprose Muchena.