Somalia

07.11.13

New Assault on Hawa Abdi’s Camp

Soldiers have destroyed a fence meant to protect the Nobel Peace Prize nominee’s displaced-persons camp—and residents fear further violence.

While Somalia appears to be experiencing an era of unprecedented optimism— celebrated as a “moment of hope” this week by António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, as he visited the capital city of Mogadishu—life for the internally displaced people living 20 miles away continues to be shaken by fear and intimidation.

On Monday representatives of the regional government of Lafoole surrounded the displaced-persons camp managed for 23 years by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi. The officials ordered Abdi's daughters, Deqo Mohamed and Amina Mohamed, to pay $100,000 or cease construction of a large fence meant to protect the compound, which includes a school and a 400-bed hospital. (The exact location of the fence is on a contested piece of land illegally seized in February 2012 by the al Qaeda–backed militant group Al Shabab and returned to Dr. Abdi, after a series of court hearings, last fall.)

Although Amina showed the men the deed to the land, claiming that it was private property, Dr. Abdi says, the government forces returned yesterday with close to 100 soldiers, destroying the 100- by 2-meter wall of concrete and stone.

While it is the third attack on the camp, which has housed as many as 90,000 people at any one time during Somalia’s two-decade civil war—during the first, in May 2010, Dr. Abdi’s hospital was destroyed, and she was held under house arrest for a week. It is the first incident of violence during this new era of so-called peace.

“I want to let the U.S. government and the international community know that on the ground, there is absolutely no law and order,” says Dr. Abdi. “Everyone takes whatever he wants. It is only whoever has force, or whichever clan that is the strongest, that has a right.”

Deqo says that after the initial threat, she and her sister tried to alert the African Union, which has an office three miles away. "They said, ‘We don't have enough soldiers, we'll come tomorrow,’” she says. “We sat there all day, crying, but nobody came. If they come inside and kill everyone in the camp, no one can stop them." The stability claimed by the year-old federal government, which now has strong backing from the U.S., is an illusion, she says.

She offers another recent, tragic example: three nights ago a 12-year-old girl from the area was brutally raped by a government soldier, she says. The solider was arrested, fined $400, and released.

“In our district, there’s no justice. They’re raping not only women, but children,” she says. “I don’t know how my mother did it for 20 years. If the government does not take action, we’ll be forced to leave the country.”