According to a new report issued by UNHCR: In 2017, a total of 17,359 Somalis have returned from Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya to Somalia under the international community’s “voluntary repatriation” process, despite the ongoing drought and threat of famine.
Human Rights Watch has criticized UNHCR’s efforts to continue repatriation even as 6.2 million are now food insecure. Since last November, approximately 256,000 people have been additionally displaced by drought, and two of the three regions where there has been a majority of displacement (Bay and Banadir/Mogadishu) are areas where many refugees are being returned.
Dadaab refugees often have been returned to more poorly resourced Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps or areas controlled by al-Shabaab, which has admitted it does not have adequate resources to address drought by allowing locals to search for food and water elsewhere (despite attempts to prove otherwise).
As shown in the satellite analysis below, non-governmental organizations are closely tracking the growth of IDP camps in Somalia, many of which are outside urban areas with formal infrastructure. If repatriation continues in these conditions, it could increase the density of these camps, which would further strain resources available to these communities if humanitarian support and infrastructural development were not increased.
These factors raise the question: is it ethical to continue repatriation as humanitarian conditions worsen in areas of return? Interestingly, Somali-driven efforts like Caawi Walaal are ensuring that aid reaches villages in Somalia’s most rural and hard-to-access areas. (Their GoFundMe page is here.)
Contrastingly, celebrity-driven efforts, which may be getting more attention and funding, are learning the hard way that humanitarian work is harder than it looks.
NPR wrote this week that French social media star Jerome Jarre, with help from American celebrities like Ben Stiller, raised more than $2 million to fly humanitarian support to Somalia through Turkish Airlines in a campaign dubbed #LoveArmyForSomalia. However, the effort has run into unanswered questions about where and how aid will be distributed.
The prospect of perilous roads, the threat of al-Shabaab, and the potential diversion of aid by unscrupulous actors all make it difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance. Jarre’s campaign also ran into a perennial debate in the development community about whether they should buy aid locally or from abroad. As Jarre explained:
“We are learning from multiple experienced NGOs that sending tonnes of rice/flour/sugar/oil is not the best thing to do. It can crash the local market price and hurt the small businesses there. Plus babies are not able to eat rice. Instead of buying from Istanbul we will get small NGOs on the ground to buy food directly in Somalia. We will constantly be checking that everything we give to those NGOs is spent on food & water.”
#LoveArmyForSomalia’s obstacles highlight how understanding the challenges of delivering aid — particularly during a humanitarian disaster — must leverage local knowledge and capacity.
Moving forward, Somalia may want to expand cash-for-work programs, which Ethiopia also has implemented. Under these efforts, communities in areas vulnerable to famine are given cash during the dry season in exchange for working on development projects planned within the community to improve resilience, livelihood, and food production.