Expert Opinion

Why displaced children of Somalia hold key to future peace

Life in IDP camps is tough. Beyond the traumatic experiences of violence and flight that brought them here, camp life itself is a minefield – especially for children and youth. Displacement is not only physical – it is also mental, with young IDPs struggling to understand who they are and where they come from as they watch traditional social structures fall apart.

It is a story many parents in inner-city communities across the world can identify with – family breakdown, poor school attendance, widespread poverty and limited opportunities for a better life. Like teenagers everywhere, Somali youth are desperate to explore the world.  Yet in Somalia, the odds are against them.

73% of the Somali population is aged under 30

Somalia has one of the largest youth population in the world, yet internally displaced youth and young returning refugees are considered among the most marginalised and at-risk groups in the country. Their limited access to education, skills and livelihood opportunities frustrates young people and may encourage some towards radicalisation, or to join criminal and other armed groups.

67% of Somalis aged 14-29 are unemployed

Without a concrete education, many young IDPs have few options for employment. As one IDP explained ‘parents cannot pay school fees nor find jobs for the youth. Therefore, most of them are illiterate and desperate to follow anyone who offers anything, even if it is very risky”.

Only 22% of all primary school-aged children are in school in south-central Somalia

In Somalia, the destruction of buildings and teaching materials along with constant interruptions to schooling due to prolonged displacement and armed conflict have meant that enrolment rates are among the world’s lowest. Displaced children are particularly affected by poor education.

At risk of recruitment

Anyone offering excitement, status and, crucially, an identity, quickly becomes a powerful influence.  Indeed, as one IDP living in a camp in south-central Somalia said: “The IDP camps are breeding grounds for extremism. It is from here street gangs, child soldiers, drug dealers and armed militias are recruited. Parents cannot pay school fees nor find jobs for the youth. I am very concerned about my two teenage sons who are ready to join one of the youth gangs because I cannot provide them with an alternative source of livelihood.”

If we cannot offer alternatives to today’s youth, tomorrow’s children face even greater challenges with ever more negative role models.

Sadly, the risk is that such role models continue to include militants from the Islamic militia Al-Shabaab, which continues to represent the biggest threat to peace and security in Somalia, as the recent attack on the Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall dramatically reminded us.  Last Tuesday, addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon denounced the Nairobi attack and called for international support to combat Al-Shabaab militants.

While recognising that a military solution alone was not enough, Shirdon also highlighted the importance of “educational and economic opportunities for youth” in order to remove Al-Shabaab’s “building ground to recruit and spread their destructive ideology”.

It is imperative that the needs of unskilled children and youth be addressed if they are to be offered a different path. Comprehensive vocational training programmes should include life skills, basic education and technical skills that will secure them work in the future.  Such opportunities provide Somali youth with clear, concrete alternatives, and in turn will cut the recruitment ‘supply’ to street gangs and extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab.

Key to this is rebuilding a better future for Somali youth.  All children should be able to make choices in life; we owe them a better future to the one they are currently facing if we are serious about securing sustainable peace in Somalia.

Download the report, Solutions for IDPs revealed as key for future peace and stability in Somalia.