Letter from Caritas Somalia

“We Cannot Simply Dismiss Somalia as a Hopeless Case”

BAIDOA, Somalia, NOV. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a letter from the executive director of Caritas Somalia, Davide Bernocchi, on the situation in the country. During the general audience today, Benedict XVI urged political leaders to find a peaceful solution to the civil unrest that has displaced more than 150,000 Somalians.

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Baidoa, Nov. 13, 2007

Writing from my office in the Baidoa Caritas medical clinic, Somalia looks to be moving inextricably toward a humanitarian catastrophe.

Tens of thousands of people are currently fleeing violence in the capital, Mogadishu. U.N. Spokesperson Farhan Haq said this week: “As many as 114,000 residents of Mogadishu have been forced to flee their homes in recent weeks.”

Over 400,000 people had already fled violence in Mogadishu earlier this year. Over 1.5 million people are surviving on foreign aid.

They have fled to areas that were already inundated with thousands of displaced people, to host communities whose ability to cope is already at breaking point and to areas in which there is little or no access by humanitarian agencies.

The figures are so large they become meaningless. Our own medical coordinator had to rush back to the capital a few days ago, after his teenage daughter had been hit in the head by a stray bullet. Thank God, she survived, but she needs to be urgently transferred to Nairobi, which is, in itself, another challenge.

Other aid agencies have recently issued other statements, witnessing the horrors provoked by the clashes that have burst out in the Somali capital, following the arrival of fresh troops from Ethiopia.

What is even more tragic is that no visible political effort is put in place with the aim of solving the conflict: only weapons!

And the international community?

[U.N.] Secretary-General Ban has just stated that sending U.N. peacekeepers to Somalia is “unrealistic” at this stage.

Forty NGOs, including Caritas Somalia, have signed a statement calling for action. It said that the international community and all parties to the present conflict have a responsibility to avoid the catastrophe.

It’s very frustrating because the security situation is so bad, aid agencies can’t help all those in need. The obstacles not only stem from the war situation itself, but also from the predatory attitude of those for whom the displaced are either a lucrative business or nothing at all.

Not to mention the fact that the Somali soldiers, who are not paid, have to find their way to get their daily food.

Before I left for Somalia from Nairobi, we had a meeting with some Nairobi-based Caritas members to find out how we could respond best to the needs of those left homeless by the fighting.

We are trying our best to balance the humanitarian imperative with the absolute necessity to keep a low profile. Supported by CRS [Catholic Relief Services] and Caritas Italy, we are mainly acting through partners operating in the areas neighboring Mogadishu, among which is Islamic Relief, that we are supporting together with CAFOD [Catholic Agency for Overseas Development]: A nice example of interreligious dialogue in action, as I see it, in a context where opposite is the norm.

The possibility of massive numbers of refugees crossing the Kenyan border is something I have discussed more than once, particularly with CRS in Kenya. My answer is still that I don’t see it likely, simply because Kenya made it clear that they would not allow such a thing. I might be wrong, but I think that, if a major refugee wave were to take place, it would have already occurred in the last six months.

Talking about the catastrophe that is taking place in Mogadishu, today our Bishop Giorgio Bertin said that the various crises of East Africa have at least two common elements: On the one hand, the extremists that misuse religion to pursue political ends, and on the other, the scrabble to control natural resources led by foreign powers.

It is actually very important to keep in mind that we cannot simply dismiss Somalia as a hopeless case. The industrialized rich countries, particularly, share the responsibility for what is going on here.

It has been really important receiving messages from other Caritas members of solidarity in these difficult times. My dear friends from Caritas and beyond, let’s keep praying for the people trapped in Mogadishu and for peace in this country, which is nothing else but a mirror of the worldly logics.

Davide Bernocchi,
Executive Director of Caritas Somalia

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