Crisis in Somalia, women fleeing famine face rape and attacks

The worst famine in 60 years is devastating the Horn of Africa.

Things are worst in Somalia, where 3.9 million people are at risk of starvation – as many as 12 million are at risk throughout the region.

According to reports from refugee camps in the region children are dying of malnutrition at heartbreakingly alarming rates. Some 29,000 Somali children are believed to have died in the last 90 days alone.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment.

Now imagine the scene in which thousands are fleeing the country for refugee camps. Many Somalis are journeying to Kenyan camps. The journey between the two countries is perilous and people are making it without sustenance and resources. And as is often the case in international disaster scenarios, traditionally vulnerable populations are rendered even more at risk.

Yesterday, Margot Wallström, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict raised concern that women and girls fleeing famine in Somalia are being raped or abducted and forced into marriage by armed groups as they try to reach refugee camps in Kenya.

According to Human Rights Watch, as of July 24, the refugee camps at Dadaab, Kenya originally built for 90,000 people, had a registered refugee population of 390,000. Somali refugees face overcrowded and inhumane living conditions in the camps and registration delays in getting even minimal assistance.

“Once they cross the Somalia-Kenya border or reach Dadaab – the world’s largest refugee settlement – their hopes of finding a safe haven are often overshadowed by new dangers and hardships, including the risk of rape,” Wallström said.

There are international efforts underway to respond to violence against women in conflict regions. The International Violence against Women Act (IWAVA) (HR 4594/S 2982) introduced on February 4, 2011 is one approach. It presents a comprehensive plan for US foreign assistance to prevent and remedy violence against women and girls. The bill has important provisions for addressing violence against women during and after armed conflict. It would support trauma counseling, medical assistance, legal services, and economic opportunity programs for women in countries affected by conflict. Here’s more about IWAVA and how to support it.

As for the ongoing crisis in Somalia, there are many ways to help.

And here’s one of my favorites from Somali rapper K’naan (who is partnering with the American Refugee Committee International to raise funds):

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