On the edge of Somalia

Millions of men, women and children have fled their homes in Somalia since civil war broke out in 1991. After more than two decades of continuous war, recurrent droughts and famine, over one million Somalis remain displaced. Some have settled as far north as they could, and reside in Puntland. Danish Refugee Council with the support of the European Commission Office for Civil Aid and Protection works in support of people living under extreme and insecure conditions in Puntland. The stories of the Somali people there are ones of hardship, fear and loss – and of appreciation.

From Somalia


An elderly man kneels in prayer on the rocky and dusty ground next to his home, a home-made of card board, old clothes and plastic sheets. He rises back on his feet, his palms held in front of him, and thanks God for what he has been given. ‘Allah o‘Akbar’ echoes from megaphones in Bosasso during the warmest hours of the day and when the sun shows no mercy – ‘God is the greatest’ says the deep male voice sounding over the settlements for displaced in the outskirts of the port town, Bosasso in Puntland, at the northern tip of Somalia. For a moment, this can seem as a place of serene equatorial beauty and economic potential with long stretches of sandy beaches, the sun, blue sky, and a coastline formed by mountains dropping as waves into the turquoise sea. That moment is soon gone. The sun is merciless here. More than 50 degrees Celsius during the summer and the frequent strong wind, is lashing dust and dry heat onto the faces of anyone venturing out.

This is where Danish Refugee Council works to provide shelter and access to water and sanitation, to improve the limited income opportunities, as well as helping the thousands of displaced people to better help themselves with safety and security measures.

‘Our work in Somalia began in 1998, and since then we have been able to expand our efforts to reach out to some of the many people in need of humanitarian aid. Puntland is one of the areas of Somalia where widespread poverty and protracted displacement have made people extremely vulnerable and in need of continued assistance,’ tells Heather Amstutz from Danish Refugee Council’s Regional Office for the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

An epicenter of crisis
As of May 2013, UNHCR estimated that 1.1 million people in Somalia are living in displacement within their own country. Some are hoping to return to where they fled from. Others have nothing to return to and simply wish to stay where they are.

‘Somalia is the epicenter of what is today one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. War has created immense needs for emergency assistance in the region, and when famine struck in 2011, the last bit of resilience was gone. People need everything now – to survive and to rebuild their lives whether in displacement or from what is left in their home areas,’ says Heather Amstutuz.

Aid needs in the 34 settlements in the outskirts of the port-town Bosasso span from getting access to basic services as water and food, but also longer term assistance that can rebuild and strengthen a minimum of resilience among the populations in Bosasso. Protection of the most vulnerable people living here is of great concern. Even for those who have lived here for many years, the struggle for better shelter and for safety and protection continues. Crime, abuse, and violence is ever present in the settlements for the displaced people. They are facing dangers and risks during daytime, but even more so at night, especially for the women of whom many live alone with their children.

Attacked and raped
Not far from the man praying in solitude is a woman watching from inside what is her home. She too lives in a home which under layers of sand dust reveals second hand clothes, old sacks, plastic sheets and card board boxes that have carried goods from around the world to Somalia. The woman, 40 years of age, is a mother of five daughters living with her in a Somali buul like that of the elderly man praying, and of hundreds of thousands other refugees and displaced in this region.

‘Everyone fears the night here – especially women like me who have no protection and no men to guard the family,’ the woman tells. She is one of the estimated 35,000 people living in poor settlements scattered in the outskirts of Bosasso. Being alone with five daughters, she is among the very vulnerable inhabitants of the settlements. Only two months ago, the nightmare came true as a group of armed men broke in just after midnight. The daughters managed to escape, but she didn’t. She screamed and called for help, but her calls were not heard. She was raped by the three men who fled after the attack and who have never been found.

‘There is hardly any light in the settlement. And not even inside our homes can we feel safe.’ The woman was examined at a hospital the day after. Pain killers was all she got before she went back home. As Danish Refugee Council became aware of the case, the woman received protection support and assistance allowing her to recover at home.

As part of Danish Refugee Council’s efforts to help improve protection in the settlements, solar cell torches have been distributed which make it feasible for women and children to travel around the settlements after dark and safely access facilities such as latrines. Through awareness raising campaigns people have been informed about their rights and obligations, and how to refer cases of crime, violence, and rape, to the local police. Her case was reported the day after the incident happened.

‘I pray to God that the perpetrators will be found. The men who raped me were armed, and if they are powerful people then they will get away with it. I don’t know. But they knew where my daughters and I are living and since this happened I can’t sleep at night any longer.’

As the call for prayer again sounds out over the settlements in Bosasso, the elderly man reappears outside his shelter and again turns his face in the direction of the sea, towards Mecca. Faith can seem all that is left here where survival is a daily quest. A new shelter made of iron sheets with windows and a door, a torch, better access to water and sanitation, small business grants and improved livelihoods – these are little but essential improvements of lives on the edge of Somalia.

The European Commission’s Office for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection is among the donors funding Danish Refugee Council’s protection and emergency aid activities in Puntland, and most recently through the ‘Integrated Emergency Response’ project in Somalia from 2011 to mid-2013.