Somalia IDP Figures Analysis

As of December 2014, IDMC estimates that there are over 1.1 million internally displaced people in Somalia. The source of this figure is the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR, 22 December 2014).


About 893,000 IDPs live in south-central Somalia (an estimated 369,000 IDPs in settlements in and around Mogadishu), 129,000 in Puntland and 84,000 in Somaliland – including those displaced in the regions of Sool and Sanaag. Based on interviews with UNHCR staff in Galkayo, Puntland, in June 2013, 70 – 80 per cent of IDP households in that region are headed by women. In 2013, UNICEF estimated that children make up nearly 60 per cent of the total IDP population (UNICEF, January 2013).

The IDP figures compiled and reported by UN OCHA are based on the Population Movement Trends (PMT) System of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a network of local NGO partners in Somalia. This data is then triangulated and, upon satisfactory review, endorsed by the Somalia Humanitarian Country Team. Since mid-2006, the PMT has been used as a data management system for remotely collecting, analysing and disseminating information on population movements in Somalia. The NGO partners monitor population movements by visiting transit areas, established IDP settlements and other key locations, as well as interviewing key community members. The PMT system uses a standardised form to capture the information on the movement. Before the information is entered into the database in UNHCR Somalia, it undergoes a thorough quality check including third-party verification.

The PMT is designed to provide information about general population movement trends. It is not a means of tracking individual people. Information is gathered on groups of people, no personal data is collected. It is therefore it is a useful tool and source of information in estimating the total IDP population, but it does not provide long-term cumulative IDP population data. For example, it does not capture the duration of displacement nor deaths and births of people in displacement.

In 2013, UNHCR reviewed the PMT system as well as the Protection Monitoring Network (PMN) system, which records protection violations affecting civilians, and decided to merge them to improve effectiveness. Thus a Protection and Return Monitoring Network was created in July, focusing on UNHCR's persons of concern and monitoring areas with high potential for return of refugees and IDPs.

There are still considerable limitations to the determination of IDP figures in Somalia, including the following.  First, the IDP estimates endorsed by the HCT are static, while the context in Somalia is often rapidly changing in a society whose populations are traditionally highly mobile.

Second, distinguishing between different categories of people – such as IDPs, the urban poor, economic migrants, returned refugees, IDP returnees and pastoralists who have moved into urban centres following loss of livestock – is extremely challenging, if not impossible. Furthermore, the PMT records only one cause of movement. This means that when people are displaced in the context of both drought and conflict or insecurity, as is often the case in Somalia, the PMT data does not reflect this multi-causality.

Third, direct access to displaced populations is often constrained because of insecurity. This lack of access calls into question the degree to which the PMT figures can be independently verified.

Fourth, the perceived connection between recorded numbers of people in need and the likelihood and required amount of assistance also affects the accuracy of data gathering.

Fifth, as in many other contexts, there is a general lack of data and conceptual clarity concerning the end of displacement. For instance, it remains unclear whether in northern Somalia people that have lived in the area of displacement for several years have achieved a durable solution through local integration, and therefore whether they should still be considered as IDPs.

Finally, due to the protracted nature of the Somali crisis and the long-term presence of the UN and international humanitarian NGOs, a large number of assessments and surveys have been undertaken for protection and assistance purposes. This has created a degree of assessment fatigue. Compounding this problem, humanitarians have often collected information for limited purposes, used different methodologies and not consistently shared information. As a result, updated, comprehensive and systematically collected information on IDPs is still lacking, even in areas where access has improved significantly.

This estimate also does not include Somalis displaced in relation to the 2010 – 2011 drought or other disasters.

IDMC uses only the most credible accurate information available. Notwithstanding the caveats and limitations of the source information described above, IDMC believes this to be the best data and is grateful to the partners for sharing it.