Life has not been easy for Barlin Abdi Ali, a 30-year-old mother of seven. The drought that ravaged most parts of Somalia in 2018 forced the young mother and family out of their village in the Bay Region. “There was no water. We left to find a better life,” she said.
The drought meant Barlin and her husband were unable to till their land. Their animals, too, died as a result. “Not only had we faced a severe drought,” she said, “but we also faced a lot of pressure from extremist groups. As things got worse and worse, my husband and I decided to flee to find refuge in the camps here.”
Barlin’s family were not the only ones to flee. Other residents from her village decided to seek a better life elsewhere. Many of them ended up in Baidoa, the capital of South West State in Somalia that currently accommodates one of the country’s largest populations of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). As of August 2020, there were almost 60,000 displaced families living in 514 settlements in and around Baidoa. Numbers continue to grow due to conflict and natural hazards.
Halima, another young mother who fled to Baidoa, told IOM that armed groups tried to forcefully recruit her boys. “I had no other option but to leave. I did not want my children to join the fighting.”
The road to safety and security has been difficult for the families of Barlin and Halima. This has been compounded by another obstacle: the ever-looming threat of evictions. Without any formal agreement from a landowner, displaced families can be forced to leave their newly found homes at any time. Moreover, the unplanned sites where they often settle pose serious protection, hygiene, and safety risks for these populations.
When the International Organization for Migration (IOM) met Barlin two years ago, the family was living in Marmarsoon, one of the many congested camps in Baidoa set up on private land. Before that, the family had already been twice evicted. “It is very tough for us to constantly think about when we are going to be evicted again after already moving around so much,” Barlin said.
Eventually, Barlin and other residents living in Marmarsoon were told to vacate their camp after a private developer laid claim to the land. Once more, they were obliged to move to find the next place they could call home.
The humanitarian community estimates that there are currently over 2.6 million IDPs living across Somalia, the majority in Mogadishu. Photo: IOM/Foresight Films 2019
The new town of Baidoa
To provide longer-term solutions and mitigate risk to these families of repeated evictions, the government of South West State of Somalia allocated public land to relocate families who, like Barlin’s, are vulnerable and risk eviction.
In 2019, IOM launched a project to relocate the IDPs to the donated public site, in partnership with the South West State Government, Danwadaag Durable Solutions Consortium, and other humanitarian partners.
The new site, Barwaqo 2 – locally known as ‘the new town of Baidoa’ – is located 6 km north of Baidoa. It is made up of four areas with the capacity to host more than 48,000 people.
Through the project, different partners coordinated the development of the site, involving the community from the beginning to ensure they took part in the design and planning of what was meant to be their new home.
As a result, roads, streetlights, a school, two police stations, a health centre, latrines, and sustainable water systems were built. To avoid relocated families selling plots and risking further evictions, residents were made aware that they cannot receive title deeds until they have completed two years of resettlement.
Some 1,000 families have since been relocated to the new site and another 1,009 will be relocated by the end of March 2021. Each family received cash assistance and a plot of land to build their new shelters.
It was a welcome surprise for Barlin’s family and many others. “We were always worried when we will be evicted,” Barlin said. “But here, thankfully, we don’t have such worries anymore.”
Halima’s family was also among the lucky ones. Together with other displaced families, they prepared for their move in June 2019 and, after several days of packing and transportation, they were resettled in their new homes.
For Barlin, the most critical change in her circumstances has come from realizing ownership of her own plot of land. “What I love about living here is that this land belongs to us; we can build whatever we want, we have our own toilets and access to free water,” she explained.
Still room for improvement
One year after the relocation, Barlin’s family and others are enjoying improved access to services. The newly established health clinic provides free health care services to all the residents of Barwaqo 2. Moreover, Barlin’s children are benefiting from free schooling and have access to water near their home any time of the day.
Overall, the relocated families feel grateful for the opportunity to rebuild their lives at the new site, and are generally satisfied with the services available. Still, a majority agrees that there is room for improvement. “We need a marketplace on the site, as we currently have none and even for the smallest items we want to buy, we have to go to the city,” said Halima.
Although Barwaqo 2 was designed as a city extension taking into consideration the long-term urban expansion of Baidoa, the site is yet to experience commercial activity. The new site is over an hour’s walk away from the city centre of Baidoa. And while access roads were built as part of the project, residents still must travel long distances to buy basic necessities.
Luckily, they won’t need to wait long to see a change. The South West State Government has laid the foundation stone for a new hospital near the Barwaqo site and a new UN joint programme called Saameynta will be proactively promoting private sector investment in the area.
For many, daily life in the new site consists of a family breakfast if food is available, followed by school for the children. Adults look for temporary jobs in the town. “Some days we find work, other days we come home empty-handed,” Barlin said. “We eat what we have at night, go to sleep and, in the morning, we start over again.”
While Barlin’s family members say the new shelter in Barwaqo 2 is much better than their previous home, Barlin herself feels that the one-room house is too small for a family of nine. “We would love to add two or more rooms to the house,” she explained.
Barlin plays with her child in the new shelter just after the relocation. Photo: IOM/Foresight Films 2019
Despite the hardships, Barwaqo 2 residents remain optimistic and committed to building their future here. “We have no intention of going back to our home area any time soon; some of the issues that made us leave our village are still there,” Barlin explained.
Hassan, a father of four children, who also left his village because of conflict, added, “Now that I have such a good place for my family and me to call home, I hope to start a business of my own.”
Barwaqo 2 is an example of how the nexus between humanitarian, durable solutions, protection actors and government can be leveraged to achieve major impact, attending not only to immediate needs, but also long-term durable solutions for displaced populations in Somalia.
IOM believes that moving beyond just responding to humanitarian needs to resolving them sustainably is critical to achieve longer-term recovery.
To learn more about IOM’s approach, read: ‘Community stabilisation and operationalising the nexus: lessons from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Somalia’.
The Baidoa Relocation project was implemented by IOM and Danwadaag Durable Solutions Consortium in coordination with the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster, UN Habitat, World Food Programme, Danish Refugee Council, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, Concern Worldwide, World Vision, Rural Education and Agriculture Organization (READO), the Somali Children Welfare and Rights Watch and Deeg-roor Medical Organization.
The Baidoa Relocation project was made possible thanks to funding from The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), USAID, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the Government of Japan.
Text by Claudia Barrios Rosel, IOM Somalia Communications Officer.