[TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN]
A rape victim in Mogadishu. From the New York Times, a sickening story of the alarming rise in sexual assaults against women and girls in war- and famine-torn Somalia:
Somalia has been steadily worn down by decades of conflict and chaos, its cities in ruins and its people starving. Just this year, tens of thousands have died from famine, with countless others cut down in relentless combat. Now Somalis face yet another widespread terror: an alarming increase in rapes and sexual abuse of women and girls.
The Shabab militant group, which presents itself as a morally righteous rebel force and the defender of pure Islam, is seizing women and girls as spoils of war, gang-raping and abusing them as part of its reign of terror in southern Somalia, according to victims, aid workers and United Nations officials. Short of cash and losing ground, the militants are also forcing families to hand over girls for arranged marriages that often last no more than a few weeks and are essentially sexual slavery, a cheap way to bolster their ranks’ flagging morale.
But it is not just the Shabab. In the past few months, aid workers and victims say, there has been a free-for-all of armed men preying upon women and girls displaced by Somalia’s famine, who often trek hundreds of miles searching for food and end up in crowded, lawless refugee camps where Islamist militants, rogue militiamen and even government soldiers rape, rob and kill with impunity.
With the famine putting hundreds of thousands of women on the move — severing them from their traditional protection mechanism, the clan — aid workers say more Somali women are being raped right now than at any time in recent memory. In some areas, they say, women are being used as chits at roadblocks, surrendered to the gunmen staffing the barrier in the road so that a group of desperate refugees can pass.
“The situation is intensifying,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations’ special representative for children and armed conflict. All the recent flight has created a surge in opportunistic rapes, she said, and “for the Shabab, forced marriage is another aspect they are using to control the population.”
(Photo: Sven Torfinn / The New York Times)
The United Nations and the Kenyan government have come in for a fresh round of criticism for the continued closure of a multimillion-pound refugee camp that has been left empty despite the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been accused of misdirecting the media by renaming scrubland adjacent to empty facilities, rather than sealing a deal with Kenya to open up a camp that cost international donors $60m (£37m) to build and has been left locked since November last year. On a visit last month, the Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the camp would be opened by 24 July.
“To the thousands of desperate Somalis arriving every day, the sight of a fully equipped refugee camp standing empty must be the ultimate rebuke,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. The New York-based watchdog called on the Kenyan government to immediately open up the extra camp adjacent to the existing Dadaab complex of refugee camps in northern Kenya, which now shelters 440,000 people.
Despite massive overcrowding at Dadaab, a new camp called “Ifo 2” has been left locked and empty throughout the crisis. The UNHCR’s decision to relocate famine refugees to scrubland near Ifo 2 – slated for a future site – and rename the whole area “Ifo extension” has led to confused reports suggesting the new camp was in operation.
William Stirling, a UNHCR official, confirmed that the camps have “still not opened” but denied misleading the media. Further confusion has been caused by conflicting statements from the Kenyan government, which followed last month’s visit by Mr Odinga when he said that Ifo 2 would be opened on “humanitarian grounds”.
However, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki reportedly told Jill Biden, wife of the US Vice-President Joe Biden, who visited earlier this week, that Somali famine victims should be helped on the other side of the border instead of flooding into Kenya. There are divisions in the Kenyan cabinet over allowing refugees to be housed in proper buildings at Dadaab with some ministers arguing it will encourage new arrivals and pose a security threat.
Humanitarian agencies at Dadaab have been frustrated by UNHCR’s refusal to admit it has no agreement on Ifo 2 with the Kenyan government. “They would rather move surreptitiously than bite the bullet,” complained one aid worker.
UNHCR officials have attempted to play down the difference between the Ifo 2 camp and the overflow area to where thousands of refugees have been moved. “I don’t see a huge difference between the sites,” said Mr Stirling who added that refugees would be accommodated in tents at either location and that water and sanitation was being provided.
A Somali boy stood on a cannister Wednesday as he waited to collect water at the UNHCR’s Ifo Extension camp outside Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camp is the largest in the world. The current population is over 400,000 with thousands of new arrivals crammed into areas outside the camp. (Photo: Jerome Delay / AP via the Wall St. Journal)
- $100 million in U.S. aid could head Somalia’s way source
» Will this be enough to help? Joe Biden’s wife recently visited Somalia to highlight how bad things are. In case you don’t know, here are some numbers: Aid is only reaching 20% of the people who need it, more than 12 million people need aid in the Horn of Africa, and over 640,000 children are acutely malnourished. Let’s just hope that this aid can actually reach those who need it.
A Somali woman weeps for her dead child at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, on July 21, 2011. (Reuters/Feisal Omar) [x]
“With East Africa facing its worst drought in 60 years, affecting more than 11 million people, the United Nations has declared a famine in the region for the first time in a generation. Overcrowded refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia are receiving some 3,000 new refugees every day, as families flee from famine-stricken and war-torn areas. The meager food and water that used to support millions in the Horn of Africa is disappearing rapidly, and families strong enough to flee for survival must travel up to a hundred miles, often on foot, hoping to make it to a refugee center, seeking food and aid. Many do not survive the trip. Officials warn that 800,000 children could die of malnutrition across the East African nations of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya. “
Donate money through these organizations:
- UNICEF — money will help provide therapeutic treatment for women and children with severe malnutrition, access to clean drinking water and vaccinations to prevent deadly diseases like measles and polio (you can text “FOOD” to 864233 to donate $10 from the United States)
- International Medical Corps — provide food, water, hygiene, sanitation and mental health services to people in refugee camps in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya (you can text “AFRICA” to 80888 to donate $10 to the group’s drought relief response from the United States)
- International Rescue Committee — giving cash and other assistance to families whose livestock, pastures and farmland have been decimated and helping to repair boreholes and wells for those left behind in Somalia; establishing reception centers in Kenyan camps for newcomers to receive food, health screenings, and medical referrals; and bringing water and installing water-supply systems in three camps in Ethiopia, which serve 82,000 refugees.
- United Nations World Food Programme — plans to airlift high energy biscuits and highly nutritious supplementary foods for children and pregnant or nursing mothers into southern Somalia (to donate $10 from the United States, text “AID” to 27722; to donate $5 from Canada, text “RELIEF” to 45678; to donate £3 from the United Kingdom text “AID” to 70303)
- Oxfam — providing life-saving water, sanitation services, food and money. The organization aims to reach 3 million people, including 700,000 in Ethiopia, 1.3 million in Kenya, and 500,000 in Somalia
- Save the Children — feeding underweight children, providing life-saving medical treatment, and getting clean water to remote communities in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia (text “SURVIVE” to 20222 to donate $10 from the United States to Save the Children’s East Africa Drought and Food Crisis)
- others listed here
A lot of the sites accept PayPal in addition to credit cards.
The slow-motion disaster of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa is truly horrifying. Last Wednesday the United Nations declared a famine in two large regions of Somalia; 3.7 million people, nearly half the country’s population, are affected. The crisis is larger than just Somalia. Right now the devastating drought in the region means that more than 11 million people need food aid across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
You can help by making a contribution through the Tumblr Dashboard or on the Somalia tag page, and we’ll match your support up to $10,000. Proceeds will go to the United Nations World Food Programme.
- In Dadaab, Kenya, we are currently treating 2,402 children in its ambulatory therapeutic feeding program and 130 children in its inpatient therapeutic feeding center. An additional 5,047 children with moderate acute malnutrition are enrolled in MSF’s supplementary feeding program.
- There are now around 10,000 people in MSF’s feeding program in the Dadaab camp.
- If people continue to arrive at the current pace, MSF estimates that the Dadaab camp’s population will total 500,000, rather than the previous estimate of 450,000, before the end of 2011. Living conditions are expected to deteriorate further.
- It now takes two months, rather than one month, for new arrivals to the Dadaab camp to register. This means increased delays in receiving food rations.
- MSF began working to treat malnourished children in Turkana district, Kenya, on July 18.