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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Human Rights Watch: Displaced Somalis suffer abuse in camps

Camps for internally displaced people in the capital city of Mogadishu have become like prisons, says Human Rights Watch in their new 80-page report.

Displaced Somalis suffer sexual violence and other abuses, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

State security forces and armed groups have "raped, beaten, and otherwise abused displaced Somalis," many who have come to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital city, to escape famine and armed conflict, HRW said Wednesday.

The report centers on those who have arrived there since 2011. Its findings show women have suffered gang-rapes in camps that have now become more like prisons than shelters.

“Our findings suggested that the people in these camps are often basically kept captive in the camps,” said David Mepham, the UK director of HRW. “They are not really able to leave. The gatekeepers who control the camps are themselves very abusive."

A camp resident told HRW about his family's situation:

“There is nothing worse than the situation we are in," he said. "Now all we want is to get a car and return to our villages, because if I can die here because of lack of food, I might as well die in my village, because death is death.”

Informal settlements have been a feature of Mogadishu's urban landscape since the start of the civil war in 1991, but they greatly expanded in 2011, when famine swept the south of the country and forced hundreds of thousands of destitute people to seek shelter and aid in the capital.

In addition to rape, abuses in the camps that still huddle among Mogadishu's scarred buildings and spread across its patches of once-empty land run the gamut of horrors, from the deliberate theft of donated food, the exaction of extortionate rents levied on the country's poorest and most vulnerable to the sexually-motivated violence of women and children that reaches epidemic proportions.

Today's Human Rights Watch report provides an unflinching litany of inflicted misery. Its title "Hostages of the Gatekeepers," refers to the camp managers — landlords and neighbourhood strongmen — who control the settlements, frequently with the help of militias, either their own private ones or co-opted or moonlighting government security forces.

As Somalia's new, Western-backed government seeks to establish its authority and credibility, HRW argues, it must reign in the militias and begin to exercise that most basic state function: the protection of its citizens.

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