Read caption Aisha's eldest son, Asad (pictured in red shirt), hopes to become a teacher one day and become a good role model for his younger siblings. Photo: Saida Nur/NRC

Reintegrated after 18 years in displacement

Shakur Ali|Published 24. Aug 2018
“Before, the locals saw me as a refugee and they would not trust me when I asked for loans or provide me with work.” After 18 years displaced in Somalia, Aisha and her family finally became fully integrated members of their host community.

“This place holds both some of my worst and some of my greatest memories,” Aisha Mohamed says as she reflects on her last 18 years in Garowe’s informal settlements. “Life in the bush has been a fearful one, but it was also here that I met my husband and raised my eight children.”

Read caption Aisha and her children in their living room. Aisha hopes to be able to afford furniture soon. The boys don't mind it as it gives them enough space to wrestle. Photo: Saida Nur/NRC

Civil war, violent clashes between the Somali government and militant groups, floods and droughts have displaced thousands of people since the 1990s, and the trend continue today. In 2001, Aisha fled from the violent conflicts in Mogadishu to Garowe, a city almost 1,000 km north of Somalia’s capital. As she escaped the fears of conflict, she encountered a different set of problems.

Forced migration and displacement in Somalia

Somalia has a modern history marked by forced migration and displacement that dates back to the collapse of the government in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Throughout the 1990s, clan factionalism underpinned by economic and resource quarrels led to a protracted civil war that endured into the early 2000s, causing many to flee for their lives. During the last ten years, violence leading to displacement has increased between the Somali government and militant groups. Throughout this entire period, environmental factors like droughts have remained prevalent, causing many to flee.

“In the settlements, I was vulnerable to everything. As a woman, my greatest fear was to be raped. After that came the fear of fire outbreaks, hunger, thieves and heavy rain, among other things.” After giving birth to her eldest son, Asad, her worries increased.

The nights got cold. Without a door on her home, which was built from sticks with recycled clothing for cover, her family didn’t have privacy and the sun would beam through fiercely every day. Heavy rains would topple her home. High winds meant that it was too dangerous to cook.

Read caption After living in makeshift homes built from sticks and sheets for the past 18 years, this home has made all the difference in Aisha's life and her family's. Photo: Saida Nur/NRC

“Most of us in the settlement didn’t know one another either, so it was hard to trust each other.”

Integrated approaches provide durable solutions

After spending 18 years of her life in these conditions, it was only in May of this year that Aisha and her family became fully integrated members of the host community, along with 149 other households. With funding support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we implemented an integrated approach so families like Aisha’s can realise a long-lasting solution to their displacement limbo.

Integrated approach

What is integrated programming?

Integrated, or joint programming, is a holistic approach based on the premise that different individuals and sectors each have their own assets and qualities that can be combined in various manners to solve complex issues. The programme brings together different actors in the humanitarian arena to achieve an understanding on an issue, and to negotiate and implement a mutually agreeable plan to solve said issue, rather than providing temporary relief to only one or two aspects of the issue at hand.

Integrated programming effectively ensures individuals, households and communities are protected, receive appropriate assistance, and enjoy their social and economic rights.

“An integrated approach limits the possibilities for vulnerabilities to relapse. This approach directs assistance in multiple ways, which enhances the household’s capability to sustainably manage shocks as they are felt,” according to our Head of Programmes, Barnabas Asora.

With support from UNHCR and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), we are constructing a school in Aisha’s newly created neighbourhood that will cater to children aged nine to fourteen. 

“I plan to enrol my children in this school. My eldest two, Asad (11) and Ahmad (8), hope to go to college someday and become teachers.”

Owner-driven approach encourages local market growth

Coupled with the integrated approach, when aid is owner-driven, people can feel a sense of ownership over their lives.  

“I have long relied on assistance to sustain my life,” says Aisha, “but this is the only time that I felt that my opinion mattered.”

As part of this project, Aisha benefitted from the construction of a permanent shelter and latrines. However, unlike traditional projects that follow a certain blueprint, Aisha dictated how her home would look. Buying local material and hiring local contractors, she oversaw the whole operation.

It was empowering to be able to do that.
Aisha Mohamed

Aisha also received training about housing, land, and property rights and will soon receive land tenure documentation that will secure her property. Lastly, Aisha received USD 300 cash aid and undertook a business development course.

“With the USD 300, I’m planning to expand my home and open a small shop to create extra income for my family,” says Aisha. Her husband currently earns about USD 5 a day as a casual labourer, and Aisha herself often goes to town to collect garbage or wash clothes for families as a means of earning some income.

A safe place to call home

After being without a proper home for 18 years, Aisha optimistically looks forward to the years to come. She plans to continue working on improving her home, and hopes to put all of her children through school. “I feel more secure now,” she says.

Read caption With eight kids, things can get messy in her household. While her husband sometimes struggles to find casual labour in the city, Aisha is constantly busy at home. Photo: Saida Nur/NRC

Displaced people, returnees, and especially women, are often the most discriminated members of society. They are typically treated as outcasts, facing abuse and daily violence.

Much like the anti-immigration sentiments plaguing the world, internally displaced people are often wrongly seen by host communities as lazy, occupying space and not offering anything positive to society.

“Displaced people will be able to better themselves and the surrounding communities they live in when they have a safe place to call home. We didn’t choose this life, and people need to understand that.”