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Posts Tagged ‘Internally displaced person’

Determining Migrant Health Needs

Posted by African Press International on December 3, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 3, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ IOM South Sudan released the findings of its recent Migrant Health Assessment last week, providing health partners in the country with an up-to-date overview of the health challenges encountered by migrants.

Funded by the IOM Partnership on Health and Mobility in East and Southern Africa (PHAMESA), the assessment is the first of its kind in South Sudan. The assessment identifies the key health vulnerabilities and needs faced by migrants, and provides reliable evidence for future collaboration between the government, partner organizations and IOM to address these needs.

“Addressing the health and wellbeing of migrants is key to ensuring that migration contributes to sustainable development,” said IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission David Derthick. “It is our hope that this assessment will provide a basis for an informed discussion on the health of migrants in the country.”

The assessment identified three key spaces of vulnerability – transport corridors, transit sites, and urban settings. One hundred and eighteen in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, and key informant discussions were carried out with migrant workers and migrant female sex workers as well as truck drivers and their mechanics, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and returnees. Information was gathered on these populations’ self-reported health concerns and the barriers and enabling factors they face in accessing health care services.

Sharing land borders with six countries and having absorbed over two million returnees since 2005, South Sudan is a country largely characterized by migration. Despite the important economical and developmental contributions made by migrants, they face risks and challenges in terms of access to health services and exposure to unsafe traveling, working or living conditions.

While migrants often start their journey healthy, the conditions of the migration process may make a migrant more vulnerable to ill health. These conditions include individual, environmental and societal drivers of health vulnerabilities, such as poverty, discrimination, language and cultural differences, separation from family and legal status.

Describing the difficulties migrants can face in accessing health services, a migrant female sex worker from Uganda told IOM, “Some people go to the hospital but there is discrimination there. One woman went to the hospital, and even though she was very sick and had been waiting first, she kept getting passed over in the line. Sometimes people even pretend they don’t understand you when you go to the clinic.”

The assessment report outlines 21 recommendations for partners and key stakeholders including the Government of South Sudan and UN organizations. Among these recommendations is the promotion of migrant-sensitive health systems, improved monitoring of migrant health and advocacy for migrant-sensitive policy development.



International Office of Migration (IOM)


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“Protection of South Sudan’s internally displaced needs attention

Posted by African Press International on November 15, 2013

“Protection of South Sudan’s internally displaced needs to be up front” – UN rights expert says

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 15, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – Humanitarian action, constitutional inclusion, development and peacebuilding measures are the four cornerstones of durable solutions for IDPs and returnees. “Development and peace can hardly be achieved when thousands of South Sudanese remain uprooted,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), Chaloka Beyani, said at the end of his visit to South Sudan from 6 to 15 November 2013.

While Jonglei State hosts large numbers of IDPs, it is a phenomenon that affects the country as a whole and therefore must be dealt with as a matter of national responsibility. “The Government at the national and local levels has the primary responsibility to assist and protect all IDPs in an equal manner,” Beyani said. The UN and NGOs also play a significant role in protecting IDPs.

Displacement is caused by armed hostilities and inter-communal violence, insecurity, human rights violations as well as natural disasters. Instances of evictions have also resulted in internal displacement. “Many IDPs have been affected by several causes and suffered multiple displacements,” Beyani explained, highlighting concerns about the vulnerabilities and decreasing coping capacity of the displaced populations. “Due to these complexities and the lack of regular humanitarian access to areas affected by internal displacement, its magnitude remains unclear,” he noted. Public figures on internal displacement therefore reflect minimums, while the real magnitude of the phenomenon in South Sudan is allegedly much higher, revealing the need for improved data collection.

“Civilians, including IDPs, must be spared from violence and abuse by all parties,” Beyani strongly urged. The protection of the civilian population is first and foremost a responsibility of the Government, that must, however, be exercised with care to not do harm to the population. Capacities therefore must be further strengthened and the response to IDPs needs to be demilitarized. The Special Rapporteur also raised concerns about the increasingly violent nature of cattle raiding. The proliferation and excessive use of arms and weaponry are key factors in this upsurge in violence. “IDPs also suffer from arbitrary displacement, discrimination and harassment, destruction of property, loss of livestock and also simple oversight and neglect,” Beyani said. Many IDPs are unable or fearful to access basic services and humanitarian assistance.

The dimensions and complexities of internal displacement require a strategic response to overcome the divide between humanitarian and development action and create a common peace dividend. “A common policy on internal displacement that builds on relevant international standards could provide the common basis for such a strategic response,” Beyani strongly recommended.

The Special Rapporteur also addressed the situation of those returning from Sudan. “If returnees are unable to return to their homes or integrate in a place of their choice within South Sudan, they lack a durable solution just as IDPs do.” He also called upon the Government to take all measures possible to avoid statelessness. The lack of documentation of IDPs and returning South Sudanese needs to be addressed prior to any national census or elections, to ensure their right to participation.

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with representatives of the Government of South Sudan in Juba, Bor and Pibor; the United Nations Mission in South Sudan; UN humanitarian agencies; NGOs as well as donors. He is deeply grateful to the IDPs and returnees who openly shared their insights with him. The Special Rapporteur extends his appreciation to the Government for receiving him and his thanks to UNHCR and UNMISS who have kindly facilitated and supported this mission.



United NationsOffice of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)


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Sri Lanka: Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2013

Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

COLOMBO/BATTICALOA,  – Years after fighting ended in Sri Lanka – up to more than 20 years for some – tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes, a situation researchers say is unlikely to change soon.

recent report by the Colombo-based advocacy body Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013 estimated that at least 94,400 “protracted” internally displaced persons (IDPs) who come mostly from minority Tamil and Muslim communities displaced by conflict, have not been able to return in a “meaningful” and “sustainable” way to their home villages.

Report author Mirak Raheem said the number may be higher due to the complex nature of protracted displacement where family members born in displacement have swelled the numbers of original IDPs.

The northwestern district of Puttalam is home to some 75,000 Muslims forced out of the Northern Province in 1990 by ethnic Tamil rebels who feared their rising political power.

Despite their large numbers, long-term IDPs – and their families – have received less attention than more recent displacements, Raheem said.

“There were and still are strong perceptions that the issue of protracted IDPs was not urgent and that they had found a solution… through settling in their place of displacement,” he told IRIN.

According to Raheem and researchers who worked on a report about the expulsion of Muslims published in November 2011, despite years of living with host communities, protracted IDPs still find themselves marginalized and bereft of assistance.

“Most of us still find it difficult to get a proper job, a proper government document, even 25 years since coming here,” said Abdul Matheen, a community leader working with Muslim IDPs in Puttalam. He fled his native Jaffna in October 1990.

Empty villages

In the eastern town of Valechchenei, Batticaloa District, Nahoor Lebbe Subair, a 36-year-old day labourer, said he struggles to provide for his family of six, including four school-aged children.

Displaced from his village, Vakaneri, in 1990 – just 4km from where he now lives – Subair said he and 25 other families cannot return because of lack of infrastructure back home.

“There is no water, schools or electricity there. Here we eat once to twice daily. Sometimes we just go hungry,” Subair said. He makes US$4-$4.50 on days he can find work, but says he needs $4.50 for food alone. To make ends meet he has borrowed heavily from relatives and neighbours.

“The only collateral we have is trust,” he said.

The nearby village of Jabbar Thidaval (Vakaneri Division) is largely empty of the 1,500 families (Tamils and Muslims) who fled violence in the late 1990s.

Former resident Islama Lebbe Mohamed Musthafa, 50, told IRIN residents’ land deeds were not honoured.

“We went back in 2002 and by 2004 had eviction notices on our doors.” Two families have unofficially resettled.

Government response

Piencia Charles, the top government official in Batticaloa District, which includes the above villages, told IRIN she has instructed village level officials to collect all relevant data on the displaced who are still unable to return.

She acknowledged there have been “complications” in recognizing returnees’ land deeds. “Some don’t have deeds, but have voter registrations. In other cases there is a deed, but someone else is living on the land and registered as a voter,” Charles said.

“Once we collect the data [on the displaced], maybe by early next year, then we will decide what we can do to resettle these people. We might have to set up a special land unit to [examine and settle disagreements over] the deeds and other documentation,” she added.

Government officials in Northern Province said there are no “special” plans for protracted IDPs, but that anyone returning to their villages can apply for housing and other assistance once they prove displacement, said Rupvathi Ketheeswaran, the top government official in the northern district of Kilinochchi.

Up until late 2012 IDPs received $200 worth of supplies when they returned to their villages. This has been discontinued, since officially there are no more IDPs. For housing, the maximum grant financed by the Indian government is 550,000 rupees ($4,200) for full construction and Rs 225,000 for repair ($1,700).

With donor funding in the north and northeast dwindling, Raheem said, the situation for those like Subair may worsen.

“Donor financial support has played a crucial role in humanitarian work and now it will be incumbent on the government to fill the gap.”

Three successive appeals by the UN and Sri Lankan government for reconstruction work in the former conflict zone have run into shortfalls of over $430 million since 2010. The next appeal is expected in early 2014.

A survey by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in June conducted in six northern districts found that over a quarter of the 990 families interviewed said they were still not able to access their own land, primarily due to military occupation, a grievance the military has questioned.

“The Armed Forces are very sensitive to the issue of land as we understand very clearly that it is a matter that affects the population sentiments. We will not hold on to any land that is not required to safeguard national security interests,” military spokesperson Ruwan Wanigasooriya wrote in a recent note sent to journalists.

UNHCR also reported 32 percent of surveyed people living in their pre-war homes, 57 percent in transitional or emergency shelters, while the remainder were with host families.

Report author Raheem said the government can ease difficulties for the still-displaced by streamlining the issuance of new legal documents, to help them prove land ownership, for example.

The national government maintains there are no longer any IDPs since the country’s largest IDP camp closed in September 2012, a claim community workers – and the 1983-2009 war-affected themselves – strongly dispute.

“It’s a lie. Who are we?” asked Subair, speaking from Valechchenei.

ap/pt/cb source

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Landmines and fear – Bringing peace, stability and aid

Posted by African Press International on July 27, 2013

SANA’A,  – More than three years after a tentative truce between the Houthi-led Shia movement in the north of Yemen and the government, humanitarian access is starting to open up in the areas still under the control of the Houthi militant forces.

Despite repeated skirmishes, the Qatar-supported ceasefire has largely held since February 2010, not least because of a shift in the military’s focus to the south, where Islamist forces seized parts of Abyan Province in 2011, and the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule in 2012.

While delivering aid in areas under the control of the Houthis, or Ansar Allah as they now call themselves, has never been straightforward, there are signs that the current peace is tentatively leading to better humanitarian access.

“The openness has happened in a gradual manner as trust has gradually been rebuilt,” said Hélène Kadi, head of field operations and emergency operations at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen.

“Thanks to structured discussions, we have been able to increase our work in Sa’dah, even if there can still be issues with security, coordination delays and the unpredictability of the situation.”

In June, UNICEF started training 50 female volunteer teachers from rural areas in Sa’dah Governorate to work in girls’ schools. They have also trained 60 community leaders on nutrition, health, and water and sanitation (WASH), gave training to 22 communities’ midwives, and helped set up 25 new temporary classrooms in 10 districts in the governorate.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has had a sub-office in Sa’dah since 2007 and last year extended work to remoter areas of the governorate, said their spokesman in Yemen, Marie-Claire Feghali.

“We have started a better conversation with the Houthis in the north who, in the past, were very difficult in terms of accepting international assistance and particularly assessment,” said Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

“But now there is much more opening and better discussion, and trust is building up in the north.”

Landmines and fear

The Houthi movement has “de facto control” on the ground in Sa’dah Governorate, with their influence also spilling over into parts of Hajjah, Amran and Al-Jawf governorates.

Since the 2010 truce, Sa’dah has seen ups and downs in humanitarian access, with occasional outbreaks of violence between the Houthis (Shia) and Salafist (radical Sunni) groups.

Aid agencies have had difficulty carrying out assessments, faced restrictions on movement, and have had access limited by insecurity. Medical NGOs Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-Spain and MSF-France stopped operations in Sa’dah in late 2011.

“There is no open fighting. But there are risks from landmines, and there is still the fear of what might happen next”

The UN Humanitarian Air Service is sometimes unable to land in Sa’dah because of insecurity. On the ground, things are frequently tense, particularly in Kitaf District and Dammaj village on the outskirts of Sa’dah town.

“There is no open fighting. But there are risks from landmines, and there is still the fear of what might happen next,” one aid worker, who asked not to be named, told IRIN.

There are almost weekly reports of blasts from landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Initial survey work on these explosive remnants of war has just started, according to this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan.

“We continue to see improvements in terms of access, and the authorities are cooperating. I wouldn’t say it’s improving day by day, but at least now we can sit down to plan an issue and address the situation,” the aid worker said.

At least 10 UN agencies and NGOs work in Sa’dah, with 67 projects planned for this year, mainly focusing on WASH, health, shelter and protection in 2013.

Too soon to return

The six rounds of fighting from 2004 to 2010 affected more than a million people. Some 227,000 continue to need humanitarian assistance in Sa’dah this year.

The conflict officially displaced 103,014 people (IDPs) within the governorate, and around 190,000 IDPs to surrounding regions.

Unlike in Abyan, where more than 90 percent of the 200,000 people displaced by the violence in 2011-12 have returned home, the IDP situation in the north is proving more protracted. Despite the truce, so far only 69,772 IDPs have returned.

Many of those reluctant to return cite security concerns, including revenge attacks and fears of a seventh round of fighting. Landmines also need to be cleared, homes rebuilt and livelihoods re-established.

“The displaced are hoping and willing to go back. But they don’t have livelihoods at the moment. They are really suffering. In the north, infrastructure, houses and farms have been destroyed – everything needs to be rehabilitated. The displaced cannot go back to nothing,” Mohamed Saad Harmal, assistant to the head of government’s Executive Unit for IDPs/camps, told IRIN in Sana’a.

Many in Sa’dah depended on seasonal work or smuggling over the nearby border with Saudi Arabia, but employment restrictions and the tightening of controls are making such work scarce.

If the provision of humanitarian aid in Sa’dah improves, and stability returns, large-scale returns could begin. But the lack of basic services is given by many IDPs as a key reason why they have not yet returned home.

Health facilities in Sa’dah struggle to attract qualified doctors and nurses, and there is little equipment to work with.

Around 8,000 families have returned to Sa’dah from Haradh, in neighbouring Hajjah Governorate, but they return to the Haradh area each month to pick up monthly food rations.

“One of the key issues back there is that there are no schools,” Mudhish Yahya, an IDP from Sa’dah now living in al-Mazraq Camp 1 near Haradh, told IRIN. “Some were destroyed. In some areas, there just weren’t any schools anyway.”

Save the Children is planning to include 15 schools in Sa’dah in their Child-Friendly School programme, which launches in September. They have also rehabilitated several health clinics, and they expanded health and nutrition programmes by 40 percent in 2012.

“The needs are huge here and are largely a consequence of destruction resulting from the six Sa’dah wars,” Save the Children’s country director, Jerry Farrell, told IRIN. source

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Internally displaced Yemenis hope the NDC will help them to return home

Posted by African Press International on July 11, 2013

Internally displaced Yemenis hope the NDC will help them to return home

SANA’A,  – Four months into their six-month mandate, the 565 Yemenis taking part in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) know they have their work cut out to agree the blueprint for a new Yemen.

While the drawing up of a new constitution ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early next year is the most immediate concern, many Yemenis look to the NDC not just to manage the political transition, but fundamentally to improve their lives in a country with deep humanitarian needs.

Nearly half the population do not have enough food, most (13.1 million) do not have access to safe water and sanitation, and nearly a million children are acutely malnourished, according to this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan.

“Our objective was to create a new country,” said NDC member Fuad Al-Hothefy from the Youth Revolution Council who took part in initial Arab-Spring protests against the then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in early 2011.

“Before 2011, wherever you meet anyone in the world they mention Yemen with poverty, terrorism, corruption – all bad things.” He sits on the NDC “development” sub-group, one of nine such sub-committees.

Much of the work takes place in a luxury hotel on the outskirts of the capital Sana’a, but regional meetings to “meet the people” have brought political and community leaders face to face.

“When our people went to Aden [southern city] the population said `Go back, what are you doing here? You don’t even care, you don’t know what we’re going through’,” Nadia al Sakkaf, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times and a member of the NDC, told IRIN.

“The people from Sana’a admitted it, and they said `Oh my God, we didn’t know!’ They were really shocked at the miserable conditions in which the people there are living. They are reporting on it daily saying that people are lying in the streets, almost lifeless, but not because they are dead but because they have no sense of living. And there’s a massive resentment building up.”

“What does national dialogue mean when you cannot even find food for yourself, when you cannot put your children in school?”, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, humanitarian coordinator

In the last few days thousands in the once independent south have again protested in favour of secession, accusing the government of neglect.

Poverty threatens transition

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, says that while the political process is moving forward, the security situation and humanitarian issues risk destabilizing the process.

“What does national dialogue mean when you cannot even find food for yourself, when you cannot put your children in school? Last year we had a major measles outbreak, so when you have these things, what does it mean for you to have a national dialogue, what does it mean for you [to have] a constitution?” he told IRIN.

“This is a country that has gone through 30 years of crisis, and 30 years of conflict, of mismanagement, of corruption… Let’s be frank, I mean the Yemenis themselves are very open about that today. So if these people don’t receive also assistance – on the health side, on early recovery, or in reconstruction of people’s lives – the whole process will collapse.”

The latest humanitarian bulletin published this week by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that “although the National Dialogue is key to ultimately resolving the crisis, it also runs a real risk of overshadowing the immediate need to maintain effective humanitarian assistance for the rest of 2013.”

While regional NDC fact-finding meetings seem to have been appreciated by Yemenis, including those displaced by fighting between government forces and Houthi rebels in the north, cynicism is rife regarding the ability of the NDC to find a solution to people’s basic needs.


“They come to the camp and sit with them. But the IDPs [internally displaced persons] say they know there’s a lot of hot air,” said Khalid Marah, assistant camp manager at al-Mazraq IDP camp, with Islamic Relief.

“We talk about the national dialogue, but people say `they are all liars.’ The IDPs say that they know it won’t be 100 percent successful. But they say they have to wait – they’re not losing anything. They’ve spent three years here and in another few months we’ll see what the situation is.”

High expectations

But in other quarters, the NDC is sometimes seen as a magic bullet that can end the conflict, insecurity and lack of basic development.

NDC has brought together a wide range of actors, including some from the southern secessionist movement and representatives of the Houthi rebels who hold sway in the northern governorate of Sa’dah.

In the northern town of Haradh in Hajjah Governorate, home to just over 100,000 IDPs from the conflict in neighbouring Sa’dah, the head of the local council, Sheik Hamoud Haidar, told IRIN he was looking to the NDC to bring peace and ensure IDPs return home.

“Inshallah, the NDC will provide the solution. Inshallah the NDC will come up with the solution.”

Mohamed Saad Harmal, assistant head of the government’s Executive Unit for IDPs in Sana’a, also sees the NDC as the key to ending displacement: “We have to be optimistic – there is no other option – else we’ll get lost. I told the National Dialogue that we only have three options – negotiate, negotiate and negotiate.”

That puts considerable pressure on the NDC.

“Many people they are waiting for the output from the NDC,” said NDC delegate Al-Hothefy. “Either we lead Yemen to be a good country, or we will fail. Most members of the NDC, I think, are working hard to achieve good results from this, but most people they expect a solution for everything.”

NDC factbox
565 members
– political parties
– civil society
– independent youth
– women (nearly 30 percent)
– Houthis
– Southern Movement
Time-frame: 18 March – 18 September 2013

Some are simply fearful that if the NDC does not succeed, the country risks falling back into civil war.


“I think there are too many hopes pinned on the National Dialogue, but that’s what the ND was supposed to do – it was supposed to resolve national issues,” said Yemen Times’s al-Sakkaf. She says Yemen’s problems are not new.

“How can you suddenly have a deforestation problem or a khat problem? We’ve always had these problems. Recognizing there are problems is the first step to a solution. 2011 helped us realize that we need to do something about them urgently – and it’s because we took sort of the power from the lazy leaders who did not want to do much about it.”

For the next two months, NDC delegates will meet in their hotel, protected from the food shortages and power cuts that plague much of Yemen. One aid worker wondered if, like the Somali peace talks, the meetings will drag on for years as delegates enjoy the benefits.

“What we’re doing in that five-star hotel is in isolation from the rest of the country,” said al-Sakkaf. “It’s a major risk because whatever we come up with – even if it’s the best constitution – the rest of the country will just throw it out because they will say `This doesn’t represent us. Where were you when we were starving?’”

Whatever comes out of the NDC process, say delegates, will only be pieces of paper which, however thoughtful, will ultimately have to be implemented by a future government.

jj/cb  source


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Analysis: Where aid can do harm

Posted by African Press International on July 6, 2013

BANGKOK,  – The aid community should proceed carefully to avoid enflaming sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State more than a year after the first wave of inter-communal violence.

“The biggest challenge faced by humanitarian aid groups to operate in contexts of sectarian violence is to be perceived as delivering aid in a biased manner,” said Jeremie Labbe, a senior policy analyst of humanitarian affairs at the UN International Peace Institute (IPI) based in New York.

Since inter-communal fighting broke out between ethnic Rakhines (mostly Buddhist) and Rohingya (predominantly Muslim) in June and October 2012, displacing up to 140,000 people, humanitarian assistance to Rakhine State has totalled more than US$52 million, according to the European Commission’s aid body ECHO.

Aid organizations working in Rakhine State [need to] take a conflict-sensitive approach to providing aid so that they do not fuel existing tensions between communities,” Oliver Lacey-Hall, the acting head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar, told IRIN.

In recent decades, humanitarian aid has been directed at the Rohingya in western Rakhine State due to systematic state-sanctioned discrimination that has left roughly 800,000 people stateless, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This focus has engendered hostility among some in the majority Buddhist population (ethnic Rakhines), who felt marginalized and threatened by people they consider to be illegal migrants.

Meanwhile, the separation of Muslim Rohingya in nearly 90 official camps and sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) risks cementing segregation between the two communities, fears ECHO, which has expressed concern that any housing construction in the camps for the displaced may lead to long-term physical division.

Conflict sensitivity

While OCHA encourages humanitarian providers to adopt a “conflict-sensitive” approach to aid distribution, which requires clear communication with communities to explain the basis of aid distribution, past humanitarian interventions in Rakhine State have contributed to an uneasy relationship between aid providers and ethnic Rakhines.

“Without addressing the very real perception among the Rakhine population that assistance has been disproportionately provided to Rohingya, it will be difficult for humanitarian aid groups to decrease tension,” said Anagha Neelakantan, the deputy director for International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Asia programme, speaking from Kathmandu, Nepal.

In order to appear impartial, humanitarian agencies must “have a balanced approach” and reach out to all affected communities, according to Labbe.

While most aid organizations assist both ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya indiscriminately, the Rohingya have disproportionately suffered the consequences of recent inter-communal strife.

Most of the 3,000 previously displaced ethnic Rakhine people have returned to their places of origin, with support from central and local government, according to ECHO.

“Sticking to the principle of impartiality [and providing aid on the basis of need] means that the bulk of aid [is] directed toward the group that suffered the most during the violence and now faces the biggest needs, in [this] case the Muslim Rohingya,” said Labbe.

But it also means that aid risks exacerbating sectarian tension, as well as the insecurity of humanitarian staff working on the ground.

“It is up to aid agencies to redouble efforts to explain and communicate with all segments of the population why aid is distributed in a certain way, and how – in order to mitigate possible negative effects,” said Labbe.

Construction in camps divisive

While IDPs still lack adequate food, housing, and health, focusing on only those immediate needs without addressing broader political concerns may condone a securitized, restrictive IDP camp setting that obstructs livelihoods, freedom of movement and, ultimately, prevents reconciliation, according to activists.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the current situation of “warehousing” – where Rohingya people are “penned in by local security forces” in both official and unofficial camps – is untenable for forging peace in Rakhine State.

“The situation that has evolved, with no freedom of movement for the Rohingya IDPs, follows the plan of the Rakhine extremists; to drive one community out of a place and contain them in camps,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, explained.

“The danger is that funding temporary or semi-permanent shelters in the Rohingya IDP camps could contribute to making the ethnic/religious partitioning permanent,” said Mathias Eick, ECHO’s regional information officer for Southeast Asia, which has committed up to $19 million in 2012 and 2013 for humanitarian assistance, including food, livelihoods, household items and health support to IDPs in Rakhine State.

“Our problem is not with shelters per se, but rather with supporting the construction of shelters in the camps, which may result in permanent segregation of the communities… We would rather see those displaced return voluntarily to their home villages and towns where we could provide assistance for rebuilding. Shelter needs in the camps have to be balanced with the humanitarian principle of `do no harm’” he added.

A US-based NGO, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (previously Collaborative for Development Action) has a training module that examines how assistance in conflicts interacts with conflicts.

“When assistance workers understand the patterns by which assistance can have harmful effects, and the opportunities by which it can also have additional positive effects on overcoming conflict, they can… avoid doing the harm that has sometimes been done in the past, and [help] rebind and re-connect people rather than divide them,” wrote project staff.

Long-term segregation in Rakhine State may make the task of addressing historical tensions between the two communities more difficult, according to ICG’s Neelakantan.

Since January 2013, Rakhine local authorities and the central government have been providing bamboo material for houses in the 89 camps and settlements for Rohingya IDPs. The bamboo is then used to construct barrack-type structures providing accommodation for up to eight families per building.

With the ongoing rainy season from May to September, the UNHCR and OCHA listed shelter as an urgent need and campaigned for $2.5 million in April 2013, the requirements of which have since been covered by the Myanmar government.

 Government needs to do more

While a conflict-sensitive approach may help avoid mutual hostility between the two communities, ultimately the responsibility for addressing turmoil and promoting peace lies with the government, rights advocates insist.

“There is a limit to what humanitarian aid providers can do to defuse conflict and unrest,” said Robertson.

Experts list poverty, marginalization, and discriminatory laws as root causes for deep-seated grievances, requiring government-driven political recognition and protection of human rights for both groups, for example granting Rohingya Muslims citizenship.

“It is the responsibility of the Burmese government to get to the bottom of the unrest, but so far they [have not taken enough action] to promote reconciliation and face down the instigators of violence and unrest,” said Robertson.

While the government established an Inquiry Commission on the Sectarian Violence in Rakhine State in 2012, and a report detailing recommendations was published in April 2013, concrete action to stem violent extremist rhetoric has yet to be taken, according to HRW and ICG.

“Decisive moral leadership is required by both President Thein Sein and [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent violence from spreading,” said ICG in November 2012, a need largely unchanged today.

“The government must strive to find solutions to the conflict. Community and religious leaders also have a major role to play to defuse tension and promote peace,” said OCHA’s Lacey-Hall.

dm/pt/cb source

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Conflict boosting trafficking – More women are at risk

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2013

More women are at risk

BANGKOK, – Women in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State are increasingly susceptible to human trafficking, said a new reportreleased on 5 June by the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT). “Thousands of young women are at risk,” KWAT spokesperson Julia Marip told IRIN.

Sporadic clashes over the past two years between the Burmese government and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting for greater autonomy, have created greater opportunity for traffickers to prey on internally displaced persons (IDPs), the report said.

Despite recent peace talks, the ongoing conflict continues to block regular aid to the camps, fuelling poverty and trafficking, including a report of underage girls being sold to Chinese men for up to US$6,500. The KWAT report highlights 24 cases of IDPs forced into marriage, labour or the sex trade, but there are likely to be many more.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are over 85,000 IDPs in Kachin and Shan states, including over 50,000 in KIA-controlled areas.

sk/ds/rz source


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Myanmar: Rohingya’s IDPs have Limited health options

Posted by African Press International on June 2, 2013

Health access in the camps in limited

SITTWE,  – Aid workers are calling for better health access for an estimated 140,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, most of them Rohingya Muslims.

Although a number of NGOs and government mobile clinics are providing basic health services inside the roughly 80 camps and settlements, they are limited, and emergency health referrals remain a serious concern, they say.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), conditions inside the camps, combined with the segregation of ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya and ongoing movement restrictions, are having a severe impact on health care.

Movement restrictions were slapped on Rohingyas around Sittwe, the Rakhine State capital, after bouts of sectarian violence in June and October 2012.

Another concern is the negative attitude of many ethnic Rakhine to assistance provided to Muslim IDPs.

“With threats and intimidation both to health provider and patient, this becomes an irreconcilable dilemma,” Carol Jacobsen of the medical NGO Merlin told IRIN, adding that “hostile access”, limited transportation and poor security were obstacles to health care for the Muslim population.

Pregnant women dying unnecessarily”

Aside from IDPs, thousands of Rohingyas in their villages or places of origin – many reachable only by boat – are restricted from travelling to local township hospitals in the event of a medical emergency, aid workers report.

“MSF has just returned from areas where whole villages are cut off from basic services,” said Ronald Kremer, MSF emergency coordinator in Rakhine State. “What we have seen shows that current policies such as movement restrictions are having a detrimental impact on people’s health. This includes TB patients unable to access the treatment they need to stay alive, and pregnant women dying unnecessarily because they have nowhere safe to deliver.”

It’s estimated there are 5,000 pregnant displaced women living in the camps.

“Normally, these women would be going to government hospitals or clinics,” said Marlar Soe, field coordinator for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sittwe, noting that government midwives, who are largely ethnic Rakhine, are not going into the camps.

Almost one year after the initial violence in Rakhine State, more than half the IDPs are in Sittwe, one of nine strife-affected townships. Most Rohingyas are confined to a series of camps on the outskirts of the town.

Security forces and metal barricades, topped with razor wire, prevent camp residents from leaving what activists are now describing as a ghetto-like prison.

ICRC evacuates a young child to Sittwe

Call for action on hospitals

The 12-bed Dar Pai emergency hospital is the only government-run health facility for the more than 100,000 Muslim IDPs and residents in an area which encompasses 11 IDP camps and makeshift sites, as well as five Rohingya host communities.

Doctors are rarely seen and medicine is in short supply, say IDPs.

“You’re lucky if you can get an aspirin there,” said Aung Win, a 57-year-old Rohingya man from the Mawlee quarter of Sittwe, referring to the hospital.

Edward Hew, head of relief operations for Mercy Malaysia, says it is time for the international community to come together with state health authorities to strengthen the Dar Pai hospital as it is currently the only option available. “Many patients are not comfortable with being referred to Sittwe Hospital,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) currently provides emergency medical evacuation services to Sittwe Hospital. “This, however, is not always easy given the security situation, as well as the limited number of beds [12] allocated for Muslims,” said one aid worker who preferred anonymity.

Meanwhile, with monsoon rains having begun, there is growing concern about the risk of water-borne and communicable diseases.

“Many of the risk factors for an outbreak are present, including overcrowding, open defecation, limited potable water, poor hygiene standards and many living in makeshift shelters,” said Ingrid Maria Johansen, project coordinator for MSF in Sittwe, warning that an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea could spread quickly through the camps.

ds/cb  source

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Unwanted pregnancies in Syria – Rise in incomplete abortions and STIs

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2013

A baby in Turkey’s Islahiye camp for Syrian refugees


  • 250,000 Syrian pregnancies this year
  • Deteriorating neonatal care in Syria
  • Rise in incomplete abortions and STIs
  • “Compensating lives” in refugee camp

ZA’ATARI CAMP, JORDAN, 29 May 2013 (IRIN) – When aid workers with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) speak to women inside Syria – many of them displaced from their homes and living in cramped collective shelters – they say they would rather do anything than get pregnant.

“No one wants to be pregnant in the shelters… That’s universal wherever we go,” said Laila Baker, UNFPA representative in Syria. “There is no place to take care of the baby and it’s another mouth to feed.”

In addition, they fear the delivery process will face complications, as access to antenatal care and safe delivery services, including emergency obstetrics, is now extremely limited in the country.

Yet, UNFPA estimates that some 250,000 women in Syria and in refugee settings will become pregnant by the end of 2013.

After more than two years of conflict, Syria’s healthcare system has broken down, hospitals have been destroyed, medical personnel have fled the country, supply routes have been disrupted, and in many places, family planning tools are not readily available.

Fadia Salameh found out she was pregnant after arriving in Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in northern Jordan. The medical centre in her home town in the suburbs of Hama, “which witnessed heavy shelling”, had no more contraceptives in stock, so she stopped taking birth control pills.

“Our village ran out of everything – food, bread, and medicine,” she told IRIN from the camp, where she sought help from a UNFPA clinic.

In 2012, UNFPA in Syria distributed nearly 1.5 million family planning pills, 40,000 injectables, 45,000 intrauterine devices (IUDs), and 21,000 condoms in governorates affected by the conflict. But the shipments are irregular and do not meet the high level of need.

Mobile UNFPA teams also visit shelters, providing women’s health care and distributing vouchers that women can use to get free maternal health and emergency obstetric services at a clinic of their choice.

The Syrian Ministry of Health has remained active throughout the crisis, and some maternity wards and teaching hospitals are still offering obstetric or maternal health care.

“Conjugal room”

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) face additional challenges related to family planning and unsafe sex as a result of the crowded living conditions, especially in common shelters. UNFPA estimates there will be 1.65 million women of reproductive age living as IDPs by the end of 2013.

While they may not want to have children, displaced married couples do still want to have sex, even requesting that aid agencies set up what they called a “conjugal room” in one shelter in Rural Damascus, for privacy.

UNFPA has not yet been able to conduct a survey to establish the scale of the problem, but at least in the capital Damascus, a growing number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been detected in routine visits to clinics, Baker said.

“We are really concerned that unwanted pregnancies and STIs may become an issue where they were not in Syria,” she told IRIN. “And when you do have an unwanted pregnancy or an STI, you do not [necessarily] have access [in Syria] to the care you need.”

Maternal and infant mortality

Before the conflict, 96 percent of deliveries in Syria (whether at home or at the hospital) were assisted by a skilled birth attendant, but previously strong registration systems have since broken down.

As such, figures are not available, but Baker suspects maternal and neonatal deaths are also on the rise.

Partners told Baker of two women in the central city of Homs who died in recent months after giving birth without anaesthesia. The drugs had run out and could not be replaced because it proved too hard to get them across frontlines. Doctors operated on one woman post-mortem to save her baby girl. She is now four months old and being raised by her grandmother. The fate of the second baby is unknown.

Births by Caesarean section are 3-5 times higher than in normal conditions, Baker said: women schedule them in advance to try to avoid having to rush to hospital in unpredictable and often dangerous circumstances.

In one hospital in Homs, 75 percent of all babies are delivered using the surgical procedure. Women often have to walk or take the bus home within hours of the operation, because of general insecurity and fear of not being able to get home. Their husbands usually do not accompany them for fear of arrest while in hospital.

But even with the advance planning, they can run into problems. On 5 May, mortar shells reportedly hit the main referral hospital for maternal health in Syria, located in Damascus, seriously damaging it, just as one woman was lying on an operating table, prepared for a C-section.

As recounted to IRIN by Elizabeth Hoff, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Syria who visited the hospital shortly after the shelling, the woman panicked, pulled out her catheter tube and I.V. fluid therapy, and ran. Two other women aborted in shock.

Women are admitted to hospital for no more than eight hours, because of the increasing number of patients and insufficient beds, Hoff said.

Late last year, WHO said doctors had been reporting a rise in “incomplete abortions”. Abortion is illegal in Syria, so instead women take pills that do not always work.

“They don’t see how they are going to face a pregnancy because of all the difficulties, and another child to cater for when they can hardly cater for those they have,” Hoff told IRIN at the time.

“Compensating lives”

But just across the border, in the dusty, burgeoning Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, birth trends are quite different.

Many women say the camp conditions are “not suitable” to have children; an online campaign by the Syrian women’s group Refugees not Captives calls on refugee women to postpone pregnancies until they return to Syria.

But others want to “compensate lives” lost in the conflict.

“We are not going to stop having children because of [the conflict],” said Um Ahmad, a mother of seven, while waiting in a queue to be seen by a doctor. Two of her brothers were killed, she said, “and that is why I want to stop using the IUD to give birth again…

At a makeshift clinic for displaced people in northern Syria, this baby shows symptoms of intestinal distress

“If Syrians stop having children while [so many are being killed], the nation will vanish,” she told IRIN.

Every day, a crowd of Syrian women and girls forms outside a UNFPA-supported reproductive health clinic, seeking advice on family planning and fertility, as well as pregnancy tests and health check-ups.

“We are recording high rates of pregnancies daily,” said midwife Munira Shaban. “[We do have] clients come to seek help as they want to become pregnant. The numbers increase as the camp grows bigger.”

The clinic sees about 90 women a day, and one third of them come with pregnancy-related inquiries, whether they be tests or treatment, according to gynaecologist Reema Dyab.

All forms of family planning are available in the clinic, Dyab said, but “the demand for this service is low… Most of our patients have asked for help in treating problems preventing pregnancies, and the majority indicated they wanted to stop using contraceptives,” she told IRIN.

Some women said they were pressured by their in-laws to have more children.

“They expect me to have more babies now, because my husband lost two of his brothers in the war,” said Um Khaled*. “I am expected to give them back all males that were lost.”

Newly-born babies often carry names of relatives who died in the conflict, refugees said.

Many pregnancies at Za’atari camp also involve child mothers, Dyab warned.

The clinic, run by the Jordan Health Aid Society, registered 58 pregnancies involving mothers below the age of 18 during the last week of February alone.

(Before the uprising in Syria, 11.6 percent of girls aged 15-19 were married).

Raising awareness

STIs have not broken out in the camp, but the chances that people are having unsafe sex are “high”, Dyab said.

“Women tell us that their husbands refuse to use condoms, which is very common in this cultural context. Even if some people take condoms, it does not mean they are used correctly.”

Heather Lorenzen, a reproductive health officer at UNFPA in Jordan, said although it is challenging to tackle issues of sexual and reproductive health in the camp due to cultural sensitivities, aid agencies are trying to raise awareness. For example, UNFPA holds seminars about early marriage and family planning methods in the camp.

“This is an opportunity for women to learn about services available and decide what is suitable for them,” she told IRIN.

She said it is important to compare the current situation with reproductive health norms in Syria before the conflict erupted.

“If we look back, birth rates have been high over the past years in Syria. Early marriages have been high in Syria, so it is difficult to see if pregnancy rates increased as a result of the war or if early marriages have become a coping mechanism.”

*not a real name

aa/ha/cb source

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Yemen: Living in a camp for internally displaced people has put Qasim and his family’s life on Hold

Posted by African Press International on May 27, 2013

IRIN News is proud to announce the launch of a new film, A Life on Hold, which tells the story of Qasim and his family, who for the past three years have been living in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in northwestern Yemen.

Years of conflict in the region between the Houthi tribe and government forces have led to the displacement of more than 300,000 civilians, who have to cope with a decline in health and educational services. Malnutrition is common in the IDPs camps, as well as in the apartments, mosques and schools where many have found shelter.

Authorities have tried to encourage the displaced to go back to their homes, but renewed clashes in 2012 actually increased the IDP numbers in the north. Extensive damage to houses and infrastructure, continuing insecurity, fear of reprisals and the lack of livelihood opportunities and basic services all serve as deterrents to return.



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Camps versus cities

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2013

LONDON,  – Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are forced from their homes by violence or natural disasters. But the face of displacement is changing: While the popular view of displacement is one of sprawling rural camps, displaced people are now just as likely to be living in urban areas, often hidden from view. 

The Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), based at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), has explored this phenomenon in a series of studies called “Sanctuary in the City?”, which examines displacement conditions and policies in eight urban centres around the world.

HPG’s Simone Haysom told IRIN, “Urban displacement is the future of what displacement is going to look like. Many of the displaced come from cities and are not going to put up with camp conditions. Already more than half are in urban areas, and that percentage is only going to grow, except where governments enforce strict encampment policies. And humanitarians are not equipped with the right tools and resources to deal with urban displacement.”

Camps versus cities

Keeping displaced populations in refugee camps or internally displaced persons (IDP) camps simplifies administration for relief agencies. “Humanitarian operations in urban areas can be more costly and time-consuming,” according to the UN Refugee Agency’s 2012 State of the World’s Refugees report.

“In contrast to refugee camps, humanitarian actors in towns and cities often know little about the food security and nutritional status of urban refugees and IDPs,” the report states.

But as the world grows increasingly urbanized, displaced populations are increasingly gravitating to cities. “Unlike a closed camp, cities present obvious opportunities to stay anonymous, make money, and build a better future,” says UNHCR’s website.

Still, encampment policies are attractive to governments struggling to keep up with the service demands in urban areas, where the added presence of displaced populations could overextend resources and cause resentment among local residents.

Katy Long of the London School of Economics, who works on issues arising from protracted displacements, said, “Eighty percent of displaced people are hosted in developing countries, and they compete for resources. The politics of nationalism play into it too, and the encampment process and the aid which goes with it provide opportunities to pass the costs on [to aid agencies]. Camps may not address the root problems and may leave refugees and IDPs extremely vulnerable, but they make sense in terms of political economy.”

In denial

HPG’s research found that government officials often assert, against all evidence, that displacement is temporary problem.

This was the case in Syria, where the government seemed to be in denial about farmers and herders who had been driven into Damascus by drought and land loss. The HPG study (conducted in 2011, before current conflict reached the capital) found that the government consistently stressed the temporary nature of this displacement, and tried to limit assistance to the squalid displacement camps on the edge of Damascus “to avoid creating a culture of dependency.”

“But rather than pulling out displacement and putting it in a separate box, a lot of solutions work best if they are community-based, not least because then we are not privileging one group over another and building resentment against the displaced”

The study’s authors wrote, “Even if the government and the international community appear to portray the displacement… as temporary… the scale of losses in northeast Syria is huge, and return does not seem to be possible without… a long-term strategy aimed at restoring the viability of rural livelihood systems in these areas.”

Similarly, authorities in Afghanistan are reluctant to accept that new arrivals flocking into the capital, Kabul, are there to stay. The HPG Kabul study observed that, “The de facto policy of the government at all levels is that displacement is a temporary phenomenon, and that in time people will return to their rural areas of origin.”

Such assumptions can limit assistance. According to the study, “One senior… official… explained why he had refused an international agency… permission to build temporary toilets and wells in one settlement, on the grounds that ‘IDPs are here for a short time and they don’t need a bathroom and a well in this situation… When we provide them with these services they will never move back to their areas.’”

Long told IRIN that in reality more than two-thirds of the world’s IDPs have been displaced for more than five years, but authorities are often unwilling to face this fact, partly because it reflects badly on them.

“In Afghanistan, for instance, if they admit that they still have a displacement problem, they are admitting that the peace is still fragile and imperfect. But rather than only looking for permanent solutions, we have to learn to live with people being displaced at this moment and focus on making their displacement better, because policies often make displacement a far worse experience than it needs to be,” Long said.

Opportunities for settlement

The HPG researchers in Kabul found that an overwhelming majority of the displaced said they intended to settle permanently in the city. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that, if allowed to do so, they could eventually integrate and make new lives for themselves.

Even 60 years after their arrival, the Palestinians in Damascus are still officially considered refugees, but many have moved out of areas designated as refugee camps and into better housing. The “camps” are now home to a mixed population including migrant workers, IDPs and poor Syrians.

Integration may be easier now because many developing-world conurbations are cities of newcomers. One HPG study showed that virtually everyone living in Yei, a town in South Sudan, had come from somewhere else. New arrivals are also prevalent in more established urban areas like Nairobi, Kenya; one study estimates only 20 percent of those under 35 were born in the city.

In Yei, Nairobi and Kabul, HPG found that the displaced were in circumstances similar to other newcomers: they were relegated to informal settlements with few or no facilities, struggling to find decent housing and earn a living. Long, of the London School of Economics, says experts now wonder whether these situations should be tackled as a general development challenge, rather than differentiating between IDPs and other urban poor.

“There are some places where we need to focus,” she told IRIN, “such as the legal status of refugees, who often don’t have the correct paperwork to be in the city. But rather than pulling out displacement and putting it in a separate box, a lot of solutions work best if they are community-based, not least because then we are not privileging one group over another and building resentment against the displaced.”

eb/rz  source


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Victimizing rape victims in Somalia: Time to eliminate the cultural taboo of gender based violence

Posted by African Press International on April 7, 2013

  • By Farhia Ali Abdi

“Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including in some cases as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”(UN resolution 1820)

The media headline around the world read, “Somalia has sentenced a woman, allegedly raped by government soldiers, to jail, along with a journalist who spoke to her about the attack”.  This case ignited global outrage and divided Somalis regarding the definition of rape and the cultural interpretation of sexual assault.

Since the collapse of the central government in 1991, Somalia has been subject to widespread violence and instability.  A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was succeeded by a new federal government in September, 2012. Somali security forces, with the assistance of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and others, have liberated the capital city of Mogadishu and other key cities in southern and central Somalia from administration by al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist movement.  However, the new federal government’s reach and ability to provide services remain limited.

Rape Culture in today’s Somali Society.

Rape culture is a concept used to describe a society in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.  Unfortunately, rape has become epidemic in Somali according to those who work closely with people throughout the country. And while these kinds of assaults, are not new in the country, particularly for those who live in the refugee camps (internally displaced persons), the repercussions from the trial cited above has imparted significant additional damage to the combat against gender based sexual assaults.

In January, 2013 a 27-year-old Somali woman, claimed to have been gang-raped by government soldiers. The victim was later arrested according to the report from Somalia by police and taken to the Central Investigations Department (C.I.D.) where she was interrogated and forced to retract her allegations against the security forces. The rape victim and the reporter who interviewed her were accused of fabricating false claim against government soldiers and were said to have been profiting from the allegations. Both the reporter and the victim were later convicted and sentenced to one year in prison at the time. The implication of this conviction goes beyond the accused. The imprisonment of a victim of rape sends the wrong message to women everywhere in Somalia most of whom are already intimidated by the untamed gangs including soldiers. This verdict has condoned violence against women. It reinforces and further entrenches old and outdated attitudes and actions towards women in current Somali society.  There is a culture of denial, silence and stigma in Somalia when it comes to rape. It is a taboo subject and people are already afraid to talk about it.  The Somali Human Development report describes how “traditional Somali society is conditioned not to openly discuss issues such as domestic violence and rape, which further hampers women’s access to justice”(SHDR).

In this context, the price of rape for Somali women is severe and has multifaceted implications for individuals and their families. Rape or any sexual assaults is cultural taboo in Somali society, it leads to shame and in the most serious of cases, the ostracism of family members. In some cases, communities continue to fuel the stigma, stereotyping and discrimination against the victims who are already traumatized and isolated.

The director of Somalia’s rape victim’s crisis center in Mogadishu has reported that:

“Younger girls, often 16 or 17, are usually afraid to tell their parents they have been raped and may now be pregnant, for fear they will not be believed, especially by their fathers; so they run away and stay at our center.  These younger victims are the ones who are most reluctant to report they were raped because they are also worried about their future and whether being a victim of rape will lessen their chances for marriage.”

There are a lot of displaced refugees within Somalia, about 1, 373,080 in Mogadishu alone according to the UNHCRs 2013 Country Operations Report.  Women and children in these camps are extremely neglected, living in unprotected and congested settlements; where women and girls are particularly exposed to sexual and gender-based violence.  In a recent interview, Zainab Hawa  Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, she recounted  how the “U.N. had evidence that 1700 Somali women had been raped in camps for internally displaced people in the Mogadishu area between January and November last year, with the majority of perpetrators reportedly wearing uniforms.”  It is safe to assume the incidents within camps in other parts of the country, may be just as high, but was not reported.

Current Somali Justice System:

Somalia developed its justice system after independence in 1960 by unifying legislation and judicial structure drawn from colonial and Islamic legal customs and traditions. It was reformed in 1969 after the military coup, based on scientific socialism and included additional reforms implemented through the military regime in control. The judiciary, however, collapsed after the civil war and there is no uniform system of criminal justice administration in Somalia today. Enforcement of criminal laws, therefore, is haphazard to nonexistent.  There are regional and locally established courts operating throughout Somalia under a combination of Somali customary and Islamic Shari’a law; some of which lack legitimacy in the eyes of the wider population. The Somali Human Development Report (2012) indicates that in Somalia the “traditional laws, used in lieu of a state judiciary, are highly discriminatory against women” (HDR).

In a recent interview (Feb, 2013) with Al Jazeera, the president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, said that while his government “is the only government that is dedicated to improving the lives of women in Somalia; he will not directly interfere with the ongoing court case. He added, “I don’t have the right to interfere in the judiciary system… my interference with the judiciary system, will never help the rule of law in Somalia,”

Similar remarks from the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s office, Mahamoud Abdulle, were quoted in an interview with the British newspaper the Guardian on March 07, 2013 regarding the journalist arrested with the rape victim “it’s not our (government’s), decision and we can’t do a lot about it…We have an independent judiciary that is in its infancy, and we cannot interfere with that…”It’s important to be careful about making allegations against the police. They have done a very good job in large areas of society. Of course there might be a few bad apples in the barrel.”

While the President and his government’s representative’s remarks about non-interference with “the rule of law” are admirable, it doesn’t reflect the reality of a country with an inadequate judiciary system. The President cannot take the high road, while the justice system in place in the country, is so disjointed.

These are not remarks that a government should be making at the same time that its citizens are being terrorized and victimized by the same people who were entrusted to protect them. These are serious matters that do not require masking, but rather require a hard look at the root of the problem. Now, is the time to construct a sustainable justice system in Somalia, run by a qualified, trained and unbiased judiciary and guided by structured legislation. As the Prime Minister’s secretary pointed out, the judiciary system is “in its infancy” and it does require direction. The federal government needs to outline a comprehensive strategy to increase the coordination of a gender-based violence prevention and response system.

Currently, hundreds of millions of aid dollars pour through big agencies that provide food, water, and health services to the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps and to the country in general., Somalia’s dramatically escalating sexual violence, however, is being largely ignored both by the international community and the government of Somalia. The situation of women in Somalia today calls for an urgent moral stand. Women, who are the majority of the victims in Somalia, must receive more attention and more protection.

Women in Somalia, as in all countries around the world, should have the right to be free from the gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual and psychological harm. Society needs to condemn violence against women, find justice for victims; and protect and empower all women. Women in Somalia live with domestic violence, constant fear of rape, lack of health care and basic needs and cultural inferiority. It is time for society to stand up and speak up for these women. Somali needs to reject the fear of violence and sexual assaults that is pervasive in the country today.

  • The way forward:

In many countries where a rape crisis exists, the stigma can be overwhelming, making the gathering of information about sexual violence all the more difficult. As mentioned earlier, speaking out publicly about rape or sexual violence can leave a woman both shunned and abandoned by her community. While the problem of gender-based violence appears monumental in nature, there are ways to address it:

  • The government has a responsibility to bring about legislation that criminalize violence and sexual assault against women
  • The government has a responsibility to take the lead on educating and raising awareness about the growing issue of sexual violence
  • Somalia needs a strong justice system that will build people’s confidence in the State’s institutions and systems and that will seek to remove the impunity pervasive in Somalia today.
  • The government needs to establish the authority required to administer criminal-justice and put in place qualified, reliable, and unbiased judiciary bodies that can deal with the nation’s affairs.
  • The government must protect women and treat women’s rights as a shared responsibility, recognising women as rightful Somali citizens who can live without fear of sexual and physical assault.    
  • The government must set policies that include strategies to combat and prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence; which encourage local and national ownership of the problem and its solution.
  • There must be proper institutions in place that can respond to the victim’s needs and rehabilitation, and which include protection from re-victimization.
  • Finally, the government needs to strengthen its research and data collection capacity, which can then guide and enhance gender-based violence prevention and response efforts; and can best shape programs to address the issue of gender-based violence.






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Aid access still limited for displaced

Posted by African Press International on April 7, 2013

LAIZA,  – More than 83,000 people have run from their homes, funneling into some 45 camps and settlements to escape fighting in Myanmar’s northeastern Kachin State. But over half the displaced are still unreachable by international aid workers because they are located in rebel-controlled areas. 

“We had to dig trenches around our home because the Burmese army [was] using fighter jets to attack KIA [Kachin Independence Army] soldiers near our village,” recalled 65-year-old Pokin Kon Dok. She fled her home near Laja Yang Village last December, carrying only her one-month-old granddaughter, after government forces launched an offensive against ethnic Kachin troops near the border town of Laiza.

Now, Polkin and her extended family share a single bamboo hut with six other recent arrivals in Je Yang, a camp in Laiza that currently houses an estimated 6,000 people. The area, near the site of a main rebel camp, is inaccessible by international aid workers.

Health fallout

In other parts of the camp, stone workers and labourers break large rocks to re-enforce dirt roads and pathways leading into the area. Others stack bricks into baskets on their backs, preparing to build latrines.

“The current ratio is one toilet for 60 persons, but that is not enough, so now we are building an additional 300 toilets in the whole of Je Yang camp,” said camp supervisor Brang Shaw.

Emergency aid standards require a minimum of one latrine per 20 adults or 10 children. Local health workers have reported treating a regular stream of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with stomach ailments caused by diarrhoea and parasites.

In southern Kachin State, a network of eight local aid groups, including Wun Pawng Ninghtoi (WPN), is providing food, clothing, shelter and medicine to nearly 10,000 IDPs in six camps.

The protracted conflict has taken a toll on diets and nutrition, say aid workers, who have not conducted any formal studies on malnutrition rates among the displaced.

WPN head Mary Tawm said that while basic foods like potatoes and rice are distributed, vegetables and meats are sparse.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation has proved fatal.

“In January, seven children drank water from a mountain stream that was polluted with pesticides from a nearby sugar cane plantation, and one of the girls died. Several of them had to be transferred to a Chinese hospital for emergency treatment,” said Tawm.

And while the local hospital in Mai Jai Yang can treat routine health problems, more complicated cases
must be transferred across the border into China. Soldiers with heavy casualties have reportedly been transferred there as well.

“We needed to spend US$3,000 for 17 referred patients to the China side in January and another 20 patients in February, basically to save people’s lives, but we don’t have enough funding so we are asking our community for help,” she said.

International aid still blocked

“The international NGOs can get into the government-controlled area very easily, but it is difficult to get to the China border where most of the IDP camps are located and in need of the most [assistance],” explained Hkalam Samson, head of local NGO Kachin Baptist Convention.

Since the start of the conflict, most of the food and medical supplies in KIA-controlled areas have been donated by local religious groups, and the Kachin Independence Organization, KIA’s political wing.

Deemed unsafe by the government, rebel-controlled areas have been largely off-limits to international aid groups since the collapse of a 17-year peace agreement in June 2011. Only a small number of UN convoys have reached KIA-controlled territory since then, the most recent one being in mid-February this year.

“Several of the camps are overcrowded because nine camps on the Chinese side were shut down last summer by Chinese authorities, and the refugees were forced back onto the Kachin side of the border,” Samson added.

On the Burmese side of the border, the population of Lana Zup Ja camp has more than doubled from last year’s 1,138 to 2,689 at the end of March, according to WPN.

Given such crowded camps, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is concerned about potential abuses and the lack of international monitors in KIA-controlled areas. “When we build shelters through our [local] partners – who do have access – we cannot monitor their progress. We are also unable to conduct capacity building such as camp management or protection training,” said Anna Little, a UNHCR spokesperson in Myanmar.

Since fighting resumed in June 2011, 12 peace talks have been held between the government and rebels, including five in China.

Meanwhile, international groups continue calling for unfettered access to all of Kachin’s IDPs.

The KIA has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government for the past six decades.

ss/pt/rz  source


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