Insecurity, weak governance and extremely low levels of socio-economic development make the population of Somalia highly fragile and vulnerable to recurrent shocks, both human-made and natural. The drivers and impacts of displacement and the obstacles to durable solutions are complex and intertwined. Conflict and violence, slow and sudden-onset natural and environmental hazards, food and livelihood insecurity, weak governance and underdevelopment have all played a significant part in past and current displacement in the country.
New and protracted internal displacement in Somalia is linked to multiple drivers, including recurrent or persistent exposure to internal conflict and climate-related hazards, chronic and acute food and livelihood insecurity, human rights violations, and the limited ability and political willingness of the state to protect and assist IDPs and support durable solutions for them. The country is severely fragile and impoverished, with half of the population living below the poverty line. Domestic revenue is still insufficient to allow the government to deliver services to citizens, and the country remains dependent on international assistance. As of March 2018, nearly half of the Somalian population (5.4 million) was in need of humanitarian assistance and half of these were acutely food insecure.
Following the collapse of the authoritarian socialist government in January 1991, Somalia descended into cycles of clan-based internal conflict and displacement that has fragmented the country for almost three decades. Much of the country’s governance structure, economic infrastructure and institutions broke down. An internationally backed federal government was installed in 2012 and a compact was made with the international community. Fighting has continued, however, between armed groups, and between the militant group Al-Shabaab and the country’s armed forces, backed by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia. In the second smooth transfer of power since Somalia’s first direct elections in 1960, a new president was elected by parliament in February 2017 amid concerns in the central government and international community about Al-Shabaab violence in southern Somalia.
Multiple periods of large-scale displacement have been driven by the need for safe shelter, the lack of secure tenure in places of settlement, and the search for pasture for livestock and food and water to survive. In addition to the violence, the imposition of taxes on households, farms and livestock by Al-Shabaab also causes displacements.
The cumulative impact of severe, recurrent drought and other natural hazards on food and livelihood security and health led to two periods of famine in certain areas of the country, the first from 1991 to 1992 and the second in 2011. As a result of restrictions imposed by Al-Shabaab on trade and freedom of movement, access constraints and the limited humanitarian funding and response, famine spread across all regions of the south in 2011, and an estimated 260,000 people died.
Two consecutive years of severe drought culminated in rapidly deteriorating food security and declining levels of nutrition and health towards the end of 2016. Warnings of potential famine in Somalia were issued by the UN in February 2017, with over half the population facing acute food insecurity. As a result, during 2017 nearly one million people who mostly depend on livestock and agriculture for survival were forced to abandon their homes and normal migration patterns to seek grazing land, water, work or life-saving assistance elsewhere.
In addition to this mix of displacement drivers, the exposed and vulnerable populations are also impacted by floods and storms almost every year. Recurrent flooding affects communities located alongside rivers where embankments have not been maintained. Another threat is rooted in Somalia’s precarious reliance on rainfall that makes it highly vulnerable to climate change.
Forced returns of Somali refugees have also added to the number of internally displaced within the country. To date, more than 73,000 Somalis have been repatriated from Kenya since 2014 under an agreement between the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Kenyan and Somali governments, nearly half of them in 2017 alone.
IDPs’ insecure tenure over the buildings or land where they seek to settle temporarily or more permanently makes them highly vulnerable to secondary displacement through forced evictions when government institutions and private landlords seek to reclaim their property. Over 160,000 IDPs and other urban settlers were forcibly evicted in 2017, mostly in urban centres.
Patterns of new and ongoing internal displacement are triggered by recurring shocks related to conflict, natural hazard events and human rights violations, and are influenced by livelihood mobility needs (around half of the population are nomadic pastoralists), urbanisation and access to information and external assistance. The majority of IDPs settle in informal and unplanned settlements where conditions are very poor and forced eviction is a common threat, and where the newly displaced join people whose displacement has become protracted. Many are displaced multiple times. IDP communities are often marginalised and discriminated against because they often belong to minorities or are separated from the protection of their clans.
Protracted displacement tends to be urban in nature. As of April 2016, the largest concentration of IDPs was in Mogadishu, followed by other urban centres. Most were driven there by conflict and drought, or following eviction from their homes or shelters, seeking security, basic services and the means to a livelihood. IDP settlements transform into urban slums such as the one in Hargeisa , where 14 settlements are host to mostly economic migrants mixed with IDPs, mainly from areas within Somaliland affected by drought and regions experiencing conflict, as well as returnees and refugees. IDPs in Puntland are also concentrated in the main cities, with most originating from southern and central Somalia, alongside some local people displaced by drought conditions.
The 2011 famine led to mass displacements to areas where assistance was more easily accessible, such as refugee camps and urban settlements. In 2016 and 2017, displacement continued to rise as food security and access to basic needs deteriorated in areas affected by drought. As of late November 2016, the central area of rural eastern Somaliland had become largely deserted. The trend of IDP movements towards urban centres continued in 2017 when most people displaced by drought (nearly 900,000) headed to the capital and other big cities.
New conflict-related displacements have continued in smaller numbers than in the past. Over 200,000 were newly displaced in 2017, prompted mainly by conflict in Lower and Middle Shabelle and Galgaduud. Most refugees repatriated in 2017 returned to Kismayo, Baidoa, Luuq and Mogadishu, where many continued to live in internal displacement. Although most returnees indicated they wished to settle in Kismayo, fewer than half of them were originally from that city.
The highest poverty levels in Somalia are found in IDP settlements (71 per cent), and IDPs displaced under near-famine conditions are in acute need of humanitarian assistance and protection, including: access to food, water and sanitation, life-saving health services, shelter and basic services such as education; mitigation of further exposure to violence and the impact of natural hazards; and support for livelihood recovery. Many women displaced by conflict and famine have been subjected to violence and abuse both inside and outside IDP camps, while many children have dropped out of school.
The attainment of durable solutions through return, local integration or relocation will require robust, strategic and collective approaches by the relevant stakeholders. Forty-seven per cent of IDPs surveyed in Mogadishu in 2016 intended to stay there, while 37 per cent would like to return to their areas of origin. This requires security in settlement areas in relation to both human-made and natural hazards, climate-resilient livelihoods, and secure housing and land tenure. Most forced evictions of IDPs take place without warning, and alternative land or housing is rarely provided, pushing those affected toward remote districts where livelihoods are a struggle.
Supporting mobility is key to both immediate coping mechanisms and longer-term solutions: some farming IDPs move between urban and rural locations to combine access to assistance with livelihood activities in their areas of origin, while pastoralists’ livelihoods are dependent on both internal and cross-border movements to access grazing land.
Several organisations, notably UNHCR and IOM, collect data on internal displacement in Somalia. The UNHCR-led Protection and Return Monitoring Network collects data on population movements in the country, including both voluntary and forced displacement. There are numerous methodological and conceptual challenges with the dataset and IDMC is engaged with its partners to tackle some of them. In addition, IOM started monitoring operations in Somalia in 2017 and is assessing IDP populations in approximately half of the country.
IDMC does not have high confidence in displacement figures for Somalia.
|Displacement type||IDPs (Stock)||New Displacement (Flow)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Admin 2 or more||Admin 2 or more|
|Geographical coverage||Partial coverage||All relevant areas covered|
|Frequency of reporting||Other||Other|
|Disaggregation on sex||Yes||No|
|Disaggregation on age||Yes||No|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||No Triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No|
|Data on returns||No||Yes|
|Data on local integration||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
The stock figure was produced through calculations based on IOM DTM assessments. It is a significant underestimate as it covers only half of the country. New displacements were produced based on data from the UNHCR-led Protection and Return Monitoring Network. Monitoring displacement in Somalia is particularly challenging because it is a complex crisis where slow-onset disasters and violence overlap making it difficult to disaggregate the different triggers of displacement. Therefore, these estimates reflect IDMC’s best effort to capture internal displacement purely triggered by conflict and insecurity.