29 Sep 2011

Somali refugees in Mogadishu camps ‘not safe from attack’

Africa Correspondent

In an exclusive report, Channel 4 News has spoken to refugees who say women in camps in Mogadishu are being raped and not enough is being done to keep them safe.

Somalia’s capital is now swollen with thousands of new refugees fleeing the drought caused by the failure of the last two expected periods of rain. After hearing international help is on hand, refugees have headed for Mogadishu.

But in this frontline city, refugees are vulnerable to a new danger. They say the western-backed government is failing to protect them from gunmen who are out of control in the city.

Several women told our reporter Jamal Osman that they’d heard neighbours screaming for help at night. Rape is a taboo subject in this conservative society, but eventually, two families came forward and said they wanted to talk on camera.

No famine in Somalia, claims al-Shabaab: another exclusive report from Jamal Osman

Amina Mohamed told Channel 4 News she was raped in her fourth night in the camp. She said two men – one of them in a military uniform – woke her by hitting her with a rifle-butt. Her husband reported the attack to the camp manager.

Abdi Iidow told us: “They said, point out the people who did it and we can take action. We hear these stories everyday. They said we don’t want hear them any more. Just bring those who raped your wife so we can take action. If not, there is nothing we can do.”

Refugee camp in Somali capital Mogadishu (Jamal Osman)

“Its a nightmare.. a man raping your wife in front of your own eyes. These men are in their home town with their families and have the power. They have guns – where I live is far from here which means I am powerless here.”

Rape victims say that local authorities are doing nothing to keep them safe. For four days Channel 4 News tried to find a government official who could respond to the allegations. The deputy minister for women, the interior minister and the Mogadishu mayor all declined to give an interview.

The head of Badbaado camp, Mogadishu’s most violent, has only been running the camp for two weeks – but he told us: “There may be some cases but it’s exaggerated. There are people who just want to say negative things. Sometimes they haven’t seen anything, it’s just hearsay.

But an organisation documenting rape cases says the number is growing. Fartun Abdisalan of Elman Peace and Human Rights said: “It used to be once in a while .. two to three months, five women saying we get raped. But now it’s like when we see ten this week and in other camps five, five, ten, eight. To us this is a lot.”