News / Africa

Somali Women Face Rape, Sexual Assault as They Flee Famine

Most vulnerable women are on the outskirts of the camps

Kim Lewis

Women fleeing conflict and famine in Somalia are facing another threat to their lives, sexual assault.  As they make the long journey from what was once their home to the world’s largest refugee complex at Dadaab, Kenya, women have to contend with being attacked and raped by armed militants and bandits, often times repeatedly.

The violence does not stop once the women reach the camps. With the large influx of refugees, many women build shelters farther away from the center of the camps, making them more vulnerable to attacks.

However, the UN high commissioner for refugees, UNHCR says they have been working to increase security at the camps.

William Spindler a UNHCR spokesperson in Dadaab, Kenya, says rape is a very under reported crime even in developed countries.  At present, he says, there are no accurate figures on the number of women who are raped and sexually assaulted either in the camps or while travelling to the camps.

“What we know is from what they tell us, that inside Somalia, many women have been raped by various armed militants,” says Spindler.  “Once they cross the border on the way to the camps to Dadaab, some women are attacked by bandits and are also raped.”

The spokesman said there are also instances of rape in the camps.  The UNHCR is trying to move the most vulnerable women on the outskirts that are far away from services, to a new safer site.

Spindler said, “We also know that women are very vulnerable when they go out into the bush looking for firewood.  In many cases that is when they are attacked.”  He explained that his agency is providing women with firewood so they won’t have to go out looking for it.

But even with these efforts, Spindler said safety remains a major concern.  “It doesn’t matter how many precautions we take, there is still a lot of insecurity here in Dadaab because of the proximity to the Somali border.  Many armed people from Somalia are causing a lot of problems with security in and around Dadaab,” he said.

Somali women often leave camps in search of food.
Somali women often leave camps in search of food.

The Ifo 2 camps has been open now for about a week and the UNHCR has been moving people into this camp and another camp adjacent to it.

“Now people are being moved into tents.  Of the houses that have been built in this complex, which are only 116 houses—those houses will be given to the most vulnerable people,’ said Spindler.

The spokesman said there remains an urgent need to find accommodation for 90,000 people.  He said, “We are providing emergency accommodations in the form of tents and as of yesterday (August 1st), more than 10,000 people have been moved to these tents.”

Spindler says by moving the most vulnerable women and children, his agency is attempting to resolve some of the security problems there.

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