Cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), as well as domestic violence, are increasing in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, with social workers attributing the trend to hard economic times made worse by recent drought in the region.
"Numbers of the displaced have increased in recent months, with many families coming to town to escape drought; lack of a police presence within the camps and inadequate lighting have contributed to the increase in some of these cases," Shukri Osman Said, an SGBV coordinator for an NGO, Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation Somaliland (CCBRS), told IRIN at the Stadium IDP camp in Hargeisa.
The Stadium IDP camp, home to an estimated 5,000 families (30,000 people), is one of several IDP camps in Hargeisa where humanitarian organizations such as CCBRS have ongoing programmes aimed at addressing SGBV among vulnerable communities.
According to Said, CCBRS has been running the SGBV programme in the IDP camps since 2006 with funding from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
"On average, CCBRS handled between 15 and 20 cases of SGBV per month; however, we have noticed that the cases of domestic violence have increased dramatically; in 2011 alone, we had over 500 cases of domestic violence," Said told IRIN. "Our SGBV prevention programme has helped somewhat because the SGBV cases have started reducing; our concern is the rise in domestic violence, which is mostly due to men not coping well with economic hardship and ending up venting their frustration on their wives."
The CCBRS programme, she said, had a component targeting those with physical disabilities and provided orthopaedic aids - such as wheelchairs - to some of the affected IDPs. SGBV coordinators from CCBRS also made home visits for physiotherapy sessions, provided counselling and psycho-social support and referred those requiring specialized treatment and/or legal aid to relevant institutions.
"Most of the victims of SGBV are poor and cannot afford treatment in private hospitals; some cannot even afford the transport to public hospitals, so we help by referring them to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre in the main hospital in Hargeisa," Said told IRIN. "We also refer those requiring legal aid to organizations that help women seek justice."
Hawo Yusuf, a member of the management committee at the Stadium IDP camp, said the committee supported SGBV survivors by helping them be accepted by society. "We help construct shelter for those in need of a place to stay, especially those who become pregnant; we help by tracking and [apprehending] the perpetrators, although our efforts are frustrated when these people are freed without being charged with any offence."
According to UNHCR Somaliland, Hargeisa is home to approximately 85,000 displaced people who have fled their homes mostly from south and central regions of Somalia, due to various reasons, including drought, limited livelihood opportunities and increased violence.
"IDPs often live in difficult conditions, more often than not with limited access to basic facilities such as adequate healthcare, good shelter and clean water and sanitation amenities, ample security as well as employment opportunities," the agency said. "UNHCR engages IDPs in Hargeisa in various projects like solar lighting or animal husbandry that will equip them with the necessary skills to start up their own businesses and provide a better life for their families."
CCBRS is implementing an income-generating project, funded by UNHCR, aimed at empowering woman in the IDP camps. Started in 2008, the project has helped transform the lives of the IDPs by providing them with better livelihoods.
Fouzia Hassan, mother of eight and one of the beneficiaries, told IRIN: "All my children are now in school, thanks to the US$600 grant I received to boost my bread-making business. My business has expanded and I now make between 55 and 65 loaves a day, something I could not have dreamt of doing before the start of this project."
Hassan said she can now take care of her family better: "I can meet their medical bills, I have built a latrine for the family's use and I have installed a water tank, this is now my home. It has changed my life and my family's."