“Evictions expose vulnerable people to greater risk of infection as they are forced into more crowded and unsanitary conditions. Furthermore, evicted people do not have a financial safety net. Many have already lost their jobs due to the pandemic and find themselves homeless, hungry and at risk of ill-health at a time when we should be working together to protect all populations,” said Evelyn Aero, Legal Assistance Regional Adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in East Africa.
In Somalia, evictions are a constant threat for vulnerable communities, including displaced populations living in collective settlements and densely populated urban areas. In 2019, more than 260,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes, including over 150,000 in Mogadishu alone. And while the numbers have reduced this year, close to 65,000 people have been evicted so far, including 33,000 in Mogadishu. Over half have been evicted since the global pandemic was declared in March.
In Ethiopia, municipal authorities in Addis Ababa demolished dozens of homes deemed to be illegally constructed on land with contested ownership, leaving approximately 1,000 people homeless in April alone. The houses belonged to day labourers, many of whom had lost their jobs due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In Kenya, authorities defied court orders and forcibly evicted more than 7,000 people from land in Kairobangi and Ruai informal settlements in Nairobi. The official reason given was that homes were demolished because they were built on public land.
A new NRC report, An Unnecessary Burden: Forced evictions and Covid-19 looks at how forced evictions are making the lives of vulnerable people in East Africa even more difficult during the pandemic. Currently, there are over 30,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the region but the actual number is thought to be much higher.
“There needs to be a moratorium on evictions,” said Aero. “Governments and local authorities in the region should put in place regulations to stop evictions or the closures of camps and informal settlements while Covid-19 restrictions are in place. In Somalia, the Baidoa District Administration issued an official directive suspending evictions during Covid-19. This action should be replicated across the region. Evictions are a cruel act which only serve to undermine the positive work of governments and local authorities in trying to curb the spread of Covid-19. More must be done to protect the most marginalised during these challenging times,” she added.