Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Armed Gangs take food aid in starving Somalia

In the almost government-less country of Somalia, the armed gangs that rule portions of the country are making a profit from the famine. Armed gangs step in to control makeshift refugee camps, in order to snatch up the food aid. The gangs then turnaround and sell the food on the open market. The food never reaches the starving that live within the camps. The armed gangs also prevent them from leaving, because then the food will stop arriving as well.

The Inter Press Service paints and drearier than usual picture of life within the refugee camps. Writer Abdurrahman Warsameh says that the people within these unoffical camps find no relief and no escape.

Since Mohamed Elmi, 69, and his family arrived at a camp for famine refugees in Mogadishu they have barely had enough to eat. Armed gunmen running the camp steal their food and prevent them from leaving to search for aid elsewhere, he says.

Elmi told IPS that this happens because aid agencies deliver food to the people running the camp for distribution and not to the famine victims themselves. And they are prevented from leaving because aid will no longer be delivered to the camps if they do.

"I don’t know who is running this, but we have said time and again that we are never, never given anything by the foremen running (the camp). Let them kill me if they want… We cannot leave here to find a better place," an emancipated Elmi told IPS. He asked IPS not to publish the name of his camp as he fears for his safety.

Tens of thousands of desperately hungry Somalis displaced from the drought-stricken south are not receiving the food aid meant for them. Gunmen have set up unathourised refugee camps in Mogadishu just to steal the food delivered by humanitarian agencies. It is believed the food is being sold on the local markets.

There are dozens of camps with thousands of families in the bullet-scarred Somali capital of Mogadishu. Not all are official camps. These are often run by men from the local clan militias who divert famine victims entering the city to the ‘camps’ they have set up in deserted buildings in Mogadishu.

This is what happened to Mahad Iyo, 54, who arrived in Mogadishu in search of aid in August.

Iyo said that he and other displaced people walked for days to reach Mogadishu. At the city’s entrances they were greeted by armed gangs and were directed to a disused government building. The building was filled with refugees who had constructed makeshift tents using sticks and old ragged cloth. "They want to use us for their own benefit," Iyo now says of the men who so eagerly offered him help when he first arrived. "We are not registered for the aid and neither are we given regular help. Food and other essentials are brought to the camp by the agencies but they are quickly taken away by the foremen," said Iyo.

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