Mogadishu Camps For Displaced People Still Packed

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: It's been a year since African Union and Somali soldiers drove al-Shabaab from Mogadishu and there are signs of renewal in the Somali capital. Rebuilding work has begun and there are new international flights carrying people to the city. Despite that optimism thousands of people who were displaced by the fighting are still stuck in what should've been temporary camps. Mark Yarnell is with the group Refugees International. He's in Nairobi, just back from spending five days in Mogadishu. Mark, why are these people still in these camps?

Mark Yarnell: When al-Shabaab left the city it allowed local militias to consolidate power and take control of some of the IDP camps.

Schachter: Internally Displaced People.

Yarnell: Pardon me, Internally Displaced People. As aid comes into these camps, those who control the camps, they're often referred to as gate keepers, they ask for the displaced people to pay a portion of that aid as rent essentially. And we heard indications of those who were displaced wanting to go home, but because they were back on the rent they were not allowed to leave.

Schachter: Now how far does the control of these gangs or gate keepers, as you call them, extend? Can they decide who comes in, or goes, or you speak to, things like that?

Yarnell: Some people find that they actually do receive some security from their gate keepers. There are others who are quite merciless and cruel. When there's a distribution of food, for instance, once the aid workers leave, the gate keepers will then go around to the residents of the camps and demand a portion of the food as their rent. In other cases if there's a delivery to a shelter the gate keepers may sell them in a local market and then take that money you know, some describe it as quasi slavery.

Schachter: And why can't the people who are in the camps just leave and go back home now that al-Shabaab is no longer in Mogadishu.

Yarnell: Each situation is different. There's many camps throughout Mogadishu, but in some circumstances the gate keepers themselves are aligned with militias and are quite powerful, and that has a major impact in the ability of displaced people to sort of move on their own free will. I mean they're essentially treated as commodities in some cases.

Schachter: Now these camps were setup during the fighting against al-Shabaab on land that had been abandoned, but I assume that somebody owns the land and maybe now that things are getting better, are coming back to take their property. What are the consequences for the people in the camps?

Yarnell: No, this is a very important context and dynamic to understand what's going on in Mogadishu. There's a lot of positive stories. There's development, there's schools being constructed, there's new businesses popping up, but as the city develops, the government want to reclaim portions of the land where IDPs were settled. The businessmen who come back often want to reclaim their land. You know, we went to an area which had once housed probably tens of thousands of refugees in an abandoned school, and the positive story is that the school is being refurbished and will hopefully be opened soon. It's a secondary school. But the other side of the story is that the displaced people who were living there were basically just evicted and it's unclear where they went and where they're able to live after that, and what kind of services they could receive. And there are you know, there are upwards of hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in Mogadishu and so the more that landowners seek to reclaim the land, the more this is gonna be a serious issue.

Schachter: Mark Yarnell is from the group Refugees International. He was talking to us from Nairobi, Kenya. Mark, thank you.

Yarnell: Okay, thanks very much.