Fleeing hunger, Somali women raped in displacement camps
Friday June 02, 2017 - 23:37:57 in Wararka by Burhan Editor
He was thin but strong, in a new uniform and boots. After forcing his way into Hawo's ragged shelter the man put a gun to her throat, then raped her, twice.
Dusta runs right up to the fence of a fortified compound housing troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is fighting the Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-aligned insurgency committed to overthrowing the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
However residents say no one offers protection, not AMISOM, not the army, not the regional militia and not local nor UN police. AMISOM refused to comment.
Most of those living in Dusta are women and children from Shabaab-controlled areas who came to the regional capital in search of food, water and medical care.
An AFP tally of figures given by two local NGOs shows at least 54 displaced women raped and sexually assaulted this year in the camps, which have mushroomed around Baidoa as the country teeters on the brink of famine.
Both men in uniform and civilians have been implicated.
Muhudin Daud Isack, who works for ISHA, a local human rights organisation, said the majority of the assailants were soldiers, using the threat of their weapons and the power of their uniforms against the displaced women.
"When they get the chance, they rape," he said.
Farhiyo Ahmed Mohamed, a Somali police officer who heads a special Gender Unit, concedes that men in uniform have been involved in such attacks.
She points to a case of rape earlier this year in the town of Goof Gaduud, outside Baidoa, in which a soldier was convicted and jailed.
However she accused NGOs of lying about the rate of rape in the camps to get more funding and denied the camps were unsafe, pointing to a police station near Hanano 2 camp.
This is just one of the 168 camps scattered across Baidoa that hold more than 155,000 people.
- Gang rape -
Somalia has been mired in civil war for decades and while international support is helping rebuild national institutions, such as the army and police, the process is gradual and incomplete.
"The recent influx of displaced families, who have fled the food crisis in the region, has resulted in an increase in rape attacks and other gender-based violence," said Evelyn Aero, of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) charity.
"Programmes that aim to improve protection of women are generally underfunded," she said, "even though attacks, such as gender-based violence, increase during emergencies."
- No shelter, no safety -
Hawo said that despite being raped by a soldier, she wants armed security in Dusta.
Since her attack in March, she has moved her shelter closer to the AMISOM perimeter and feels safer. Others said sturdy homes of stone and tin -- not flimsy huts of rags and sticks -- was what they wanted, not more men with guns.
"Shelter, or the lack of it, has very far-reaching implications," said Gavin Lim, a protection officer with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
"Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security and ensure personal safety and protection, and to ensure privacy and dignity, especially for women and girls."
But as the drought deepens and the threat of famine looms larger the dangers are set to grow.
More than 377,000 were uprooted in the first three months of 2017, taking the number of those internally displaced by conflict and drought in Somalia to more than a million, a figure the UNHCR expects to triple by the end of this year.
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