Interview: OCHA Mogadishu Head of Office

11 April, 2013
Displaced families in Mogadishu, Somalia. Credit: OCHA
Displaced families in Mogadishu, Somalia. Credit: OCHA
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More than 360,000 people displaced by conflict live in makeshift tents in crowded conditions in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. OCHA is working with humanitarian organizations to support the Government’s efforts to relocate the displaced families to the outskirts of the city, where they will have better access to proper housing and services. However, the scale of the effort is unprecedented given the large number of people who need help. Humanitarian organizations are working together to make sure the relocation provides an opportunity for a better life for the displaced families. 

In this interview, Justin Brady, the head of OCHA’s office in Somalia, talks about the challenges associated with relocating hundreds of thousands of displaced people. 
Q: Why are internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mogadishu being relocated?
A: According to the Somali Government, this relocation has three objectives. The first is improving security as many settlements are located very close to key infrastructure like markets, hospitals and schools. The second is to improve the humanitarian situation of the displaced communities. The current situation of many small and congested settlements is untenable and the conditions people live in are deplorable. We hope that the relocation will result in better site planning and more efficient delivery of services. Finally, we need to recognize that Mogadishu is experiencing a huge amount of growth and reconstruction. The city’s plans for growth are predicated on the development of public and private land that is currently occupied by settlements for displaced people.
Q: This is reportedly one of the largest IDP relocation efforts in the world. Can you tell us how many displaced people are in Mogadishu and how many will be relocated?
A: We are working with an estimated 360,000 people living in IDP settlements in Mogadishu. There are inherent problems in getting accurate figures, given how dispersed the settlements are. There are also issues with the people who manage the settlements, who are known as ‘gatekeepers’. They often control people’s access to humanitarian aid and have an interest in inflating IDP figures to obtain more assistance. Some displaced people are likely to choose to return to their areas of origin rather than another camp. Those who choose to remain in Mogadishu will be relocated.
It is important to clarify that the relocation is a Government plan. The role of UN agencies and our partners is simply to support this process to ensure that the rights of the displaced communities are respected and that the relocation leads to an improvement in their living conditions. The relocation will be from the settlements where displaced people currently reside within Mogadishu to designated areas on the outskirts of the city. 
Humanitarian agencies will assist the Government and reach out to the displaced families to find out if they prefer to return home or stay in Mogadishu. Once people are relocated to the new sites, we will work closely with the displaced communities to identify their humanitarian and development needs as well as options for durable solutions to their situation. 
Q: Where exactly will the IDPs be relocated to and when?
A: The Government plans to relocate displaced families to areas on the outskirts of Mogadishu – originally three sites were proposed to the west, north and south of the city. The first families will be relocated to the site to the west, in Daynile district, while the other sites are being assessed. The other sites have some challenges in terms of water availability and proximity to jobs. Daynile already hosts a good number of displaced people, in what is called the ‘77 settlement.’ Humanitarians are already providing some services in that settlement, but we are looking at how the UN, in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and others, can help the Government in improving them. We have to strive to make this relocation ethical and humane for the displaced people who will ultimately determine for themselves how and where they want to live. 
In terms of timing, the Government produced a plan which initially sought to complete the relocation of IDPs by 20 August 2013, which would mark the one year anniversary of the political transition from the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to the new elected Federal Government of Somalia. This is obviously a very ambitious timeline given the number of people who need to be relocated and the amount of preparatory work to be undertaken to make the relocation process smooth and respectful of the IDPs’ rights. 
The preparatory work includes a landmine and unexploded ordinance assessment and clearance, and the development of a site plan that meets the basic needs of displaced people.  The landmine assessments and the clearance of a few sites have already started. There needs to be police posts, and guarantees on land tenure to ensure that people can remain at the new sites until durable solutions are found for them. We have found Government counterparts very open to adjusting the timeline to ensure this is done well.  
Q: The insecurity in the lives of internally displaced people in Mogadishu has been reported widely by international and national media. Will the relocation improve the security of IDPs, and women in particular?
A: The Government has the responsibility to ensure that security is improved and we have engaged partners beyond humanitarian agencies to assist in these aspects of the plan. One of the key preparatory activities before starting the relocation will be to determine how security can be improved. This might be through the establishment of police posts and mobile policing as well as looking at other approaches. In the past year, we implemented many projects aimed at improving the security of IDPs, particularly women and girls. We have already provided transitional shelters to over 5,000 families in Mogadishu. These shelters allow families to lock their homes. According to the women who have already benefitted from these projects, their lives have drastically changed and their own security has improved, especially at night. We have to continue in this direction and involve the displaced people in decisions to improve their security. 
Q: Do the IDPs oppose the relocation process? 
A: Some IDPs have been living in settlements in Mogadishu for decades. Of course, changes can be perceived as threatening, especially if communication to those affected by the move is not open and complete. The Government has established a task force to coordinate the relocation and within that is a communications group that will be responsible for sharing information and listening to displaced peoples’ concerns. 
The aim is to work with the IDP leaders in making this change an opportunity rather than a threat for thousands of families. If everyone works together to do this properly, displaced people will have better access to opportunities to improve their lives. 
Reporting by OCHA Somalia