Conflict and violence, slow and sudden-onset disasters, and food insecurity have all played a significant part in past and current displacement in the country. Displacement caused by conflict is linked to al-Shabaab activity, who are present primarily in the south-east of the country, while displacement due to disasters is commonly linked to pervasive drought and riverine and flash flooding.
In the first half of 2019, about 178,000 new displacements were recorded, 106,000 by disasters and 72,000 by conflict and violence. Find out more about displacement in Somalia and other countries in the Mid-Year Figures Report.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
New and protracted displacement in Somalia has many interlinked drivers, including recurrent and persistent exposure to internal conflict and climate-related hazards, chronic and acute food and livelihood insecurity, human rights violations and the state’s limited ability and political will to protect and assist IDPs and support them in pursuing durable solutions.
The country is severely fragile and impoverished, with half of the population living below the poverty line. Domestic revenue is insufficient for the government to deliver basic services, and the country is dependent on international assistance. More than a third of the population, or 5.4 million people, were in need of humanitarian assistance as of March 2018, of whom half were acutely food insecure.
Following the collapse of its 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. Its governance structure, economic infrastructure and institutions have crumbled. An internationally backed federal government was installed in 2012 and a compact agreed with the international community.
Fighting between armed groups has continued, however, and between the militant group al-Shabaab and the country’s armed forces backed by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia. In only the second smooth transfer of power since the country’s first direct elections in 1960, parliament elected a new president in February 2017 as concerns in central government and the international community grew about al-Shabaab violence in southern Somalia.
Large-scale displacement has repeatedly been driven by people’s need for safe shelter, a lack of secure tenure in places of settlement and the search for food, water and pasture for livestock. In addition to its violence, al-Shabaab’s imposition of taxes on households, farms and livestock has also caused displacements.
The cumulative impacts of severe and recurrent drought and other natural hazards on food and livelihood security have led to two periods of famine in some areas of the country, the first from 1991 to 1992 and the second in 2011. As a result of al-Shabaab’s restrictions on trade and freedom of movement, access constraints and limited humanitarian funding and response, the 2011 famine spread across all southern regions in 2011 and around 260,000 people died.
Two consecutive years of severe drought culminated in rapidly deteriorating food security and declining levels of nutrition and health again towards the end of 2016. With more than half of the population facing acute food security, the UN warned of a potential new famine in February 2017. Nearly a million people who depend largely on livestock and agriculture for survival were forced to abandon their homes and normal migration patterns during the year to seek grazing land, water, work or life-saving assistance elsewhere.
Exposed and vulnerable populations are also affected by floods and storms almost every year. Recurrent flooding affects communities living near rivers whose embankments have not been maintained. Somalia’s precarious reliance on rainfall also makes it highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.
The forced return of Somali refugees has added to the number of IDPs in the country. 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. Given the near impossibility of their achieving durable solutions, they will have effectively returned to internal displacement.
IDPs’ insecure tenure over the buildings or land where they try to settle, whether temporarily or permanently, makes them highly vulnerable to forced eviction and secondary displacement when public and private landlords seek to reclaim their property. More than 256,000 people were forcibly evicted in 2018, mostly in urban centres.
Where and how do people move?
Displacement patterns are determined by recurring shocks associated with conflict, natural hazards and human rights violations. They are also influenced by livelihood mobility needs - around half of the population are nomadic pastoralists - rapid 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. The newly displaced join those whose displacement has become protracted, and many are displaced more than once. IDPs are often marginalised and discriminated against, particularly if they belong to a minority or are separated from the protection of their clans.
Displacement tends to be urban in nature, patterns including rural to urban displacement, intra-urban displacement when IDPs are secondarily displaced by eviction and move to another part of the city and inter-urban displacement, movement between cities. In 2018, as many as 80 per cent of IDPs recorded for the year were residing in urban centres. IDPs’ settlements transform over time into urban informal settlements such as the one in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, where 14 settlements are home to economic migrants and IDPs, mainly from parts of the region affected by drought and conflict, as well as returnees and refugees. IDPs in Puntland are also concentrated in the region’s main cities. Many come from southern and central Somalia, though some have been displaced more locally by drought.
Large-scale drought displacement began in late 2016, as food security and access to basic services began to deteriorate in affected areas. The central area of rural eastern Somaliland had become largely deserted by late November. Displacement linked to drought continued in subsequent years and in 2018, 249,000 new displacements linked to drought were reported. At the same time, above average rainfall in central and southern parts of the country in April and May 2018 caused flooding, triggering 289,000 new displacements.
There were fewer displacements associated with conflict in 2017 than in the past. More than 200,000 were reported, prompted mainly by conflict in Lower and Middle Shabelle and Galgaduud. Most of the refugees repatriated in 2017 made for Kismayo, Baidoa, Luuq and Mogadishu, where many found themselves internally displaced once again. Most of the returnees in Kismayo indicated that they wished to settle there, though fewer than half were originally from the city. However, in 2018, displacement linked to conflict increased again. Around 578,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence were recorded, the highest figure in a decade. This was largely due to an increase in evictions in urban centres, particularly in Mogadishu.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
The highest poverty levels in Somalia, 71 per cent, are found in IDPs’ settlements. Those 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 education; mitigation of further exposure to violence and the impacts of natural hazards; and support for livelihood recovery. Women and girls are more likely to experience rape, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, including sex in exchange for food, shelter and non-food items.
Over 45 per cent of IDPs report having been displaced for three or more years, indicating the protracted nature of displacement in Somalia. The achievement of durable solutions will require robust, strategic and collective approaches, whether IDPs choose to return, integrate locally or settle elsewhere. Even in areas of origin where conflict has subsided, IDPs report not wanting to return out of fear of reprisal or because of the lack of social services and livelihood opportunities. For example, 47 per cent of those surveyed in Mogadishu in 2016 said they intended to stay in the city, while 37 per cent said they would prefer to return to their areas of origin.
Sustainable solutions will require security in terms of human-made and natural hazards, climate-resilient livelihoods and secure tenure. Most forced evictions of IDPs take place without warning, and alternative land or housing is rarely provided, pushing those affected toward peripheral districts where establishing a livelihood is even more of a struggle.
Supporting mobility is key to both immediate coping mechanisms and longer-term solutions. Some displaced farmers move between urban and rural locations to combine access to assistance with livelihood activities in their areas of origin, and pastoralists’ livelihoods depend on both internal and cross-border movements to access grazing land.
Where does data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
Several organisations, notably UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), collect data on internal displacement in Somalia. The UNHCR-led Protection and Return Monitoring Network gathers information on both voluntary and forced displacement and returns. There are, however, numerous methodological and conceptual challenges with the dataset and we are engaged with our partners to tackle some of them. IOM began monitoring in Somalia in 2017 and is assessing displaced populations in around half of the country.
IDMC’s estimate of the total number of IDPs in in Somalia is based on the Information Management Working Group’s estimate as of February 2018, which was compiled from several sources, including key informant interviews, site assessments, IOM DTM assessments, local NGO assessments and registration data collected by the camp coordination and camp management cluster. Because the data was not clearly disaggregated by cause of displacement, the figure represents a mix of triggers, including people displaced by disasters and conflict.
IDMC’s estimate of the number of new displacements in 2018 is based on data obtained from the UNHCR/NRC-led Protection & Return Monitoring Network (PRMN), to which IDMC added figures from NRC/UN Habitat reports on forced evictions. The PRMN data does not distinguish between forced and voluntary movements, however, which means not all movements were necessarily internal displacement.
The estimated number of unverified solutions is based on PRMN data which indicates only that 200 people had returned but with no corroborating evidence.