Somalia, a war-torn country located in the Horn of Africa, has a population of approximately 15 million. The population is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases because of its poor public health infrastructure that was damaged during years of civil war, ongoing conflicts, and economic underdevelopment. At the same time, multiple crises have contributed to the massive displacement of Somalis within and outside the country: persistent conflict, climate disasters, diseases, and desert locust infestations. By the end of 2019, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that around 5.2 million inhabitants were in need of assistance. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the challenges faced by the general and displaced population: food insecurity has increased and the response to environmental disasters has been slowed down by higher shipping costs of necessary equipment and goods.
The first case of COVID-19 in Somalia was reported on 16 March 2020 from a returning citizen, prompting a halt of international flights for two weeks, with exceptions for humanitarian flights. Other measures imposed to curb the spread include movement restrictions and reduced business activity. In 2020, Somalia recorded a total of 4,714 COVID-19 cases and 130 deaths. A considerable spike was reported in the first two months of 2021, when nearly the same number of positive cases and deaths were recorded as during the entire previous year. Its health system is severely underdeveloped and cannot cope with the second wave. In the capital Mogadishu only one hospital has an isolation centre. It is also possible that the low recorded cases in 2020 can be attributed to the limited testing capacities of the country (Al Jazeera, 28 April 2020).
A UNHCR update from 21 May 2020 reported only two active cases among its population of concern (one refugee and one IDP), which includes 2,648,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), 130,510 returning refugees, 15,358 asylum seekers, and 14,666 refugees. However, Amnesty International reported a lack of testing facilities within camps in July 2020, as well as reduced healthcare provision due to lack of funding and movement and overcrowding restrictions. The effect of the pandemic and restriction measures on the numerous and overcrowded IDP camps was also assessed by a CCCM Cluster Feedback Assessment. The findings show that a majority of respondents faced economic difficulties due to a loss of their livelihoods, 36 percent believed they had adequate access to health services, and only 23 percent had access to COVID-19 testing.
The extent of COVID-19 transmission in Somali jails and other detention centres is still unclear. The conditions for a mass outbreak are present, as reported by the ICRC in April 2020: “Overcrowding, shared sanitation facilities, poor hygiene, limited ventilation and access to common areas are examples of structural and organizational factors that can favour the spread of diseases. … The good news is that several handwashing stations are being set up in the detention facilities. Detainees and staff have also been informed on measures they can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. … Some detention facilities in Somalia have already halted family visits to reduce the risk.”
In April 2020, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) donated personal hygiene goods, cleaning products, medical goods, masks, and gloves, and provided guidelines for coping with infectious diseases to several prisons in Somalia (Mogadishu Central Prison, Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex, Baidoa Central Prison, Garowe Prison, Kismayo Prison, Beledweyn Prison).
The United Kingdom Home Office, in a 2015 Document on Prison Conditions in Somalia, reported that “Conditions in most prisons in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, including those administered by Al Shabaab, are harsh with reports of poor levels of sanitation, overcrowding and disease; inadequate medical facilities; extensive use of lengthy pretrial detention and the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.”
It is unclear how many detainees are non-citizens, and whether they are detained due to their migration status. In 2012, Mogadishu Central Prison had no foreign prisoners out of 950.
- A. Bentley, “The Humanitarian Disaster Before Us: COVID-19 in Somalia,” Refugees International, 8 June 2020, https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/6/8/the-humanitarian-disaster-before-us-covid-19-in-somalia
- A. Sperber, “Somalia Struggles With Coronavirus As Infections Go Undetected,” Al Jazeera, 28 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/4/28/somalia-struggles-with-coronavirus-as-infections-go-undetected
- Amnesty International, “Somalia: Internally Displaced People Surviving By “The Grace of God” Amidst COVID-19,” 21 July 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/somalia-internally-displaced-people-surviving-by-the-grace-of-god-amidst-covid19/
- CCCM Cluster and DTM, “COVID-19 Response: RCCE Feedback Assessment in IDP Sites — Round 2 Somalia,” 24 September 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/somalia/covid-19-response-rcce-feedback-assessment-idp-sites-round-2-september-2020
- H. Maruf, “Somalia Confirms First Case of Coronavirus,” Voice of America News, 16 March 2020, https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/somalia-confirms-first-case-coronavirus
- ICRC, “Somalia: COVID-19 in Places of Detention,” 24 April 2020, https://blogs.icrc.org/somalia/2020/04/24/somalia-covid-19-in-places-of-detention/
- K. Asala, “Somalia Struggles Against COVID-19,” Africa News, 26 February 2021, https://www.africanews.com/2021/02/26/somalia-struggles-against-covid-19/
- OCHA, “Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan: Humanitarian Programme Cycle 2020,” 22 January 2020, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/operations/somalia/document/somalia-humanitarian-response-plan-humanitarian-programme-cycle-2020
- UNHCR, “Somalia – COVID-19 Response As At 21 May 2020,” 22 May 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/76522
- UNHCR, “Somalia Factsheet – February 2021,” 24 February 2021, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/85094
- UNODC, “Good Prison Health is Good Public Health: Responding to COVID-19 in Somalia’s Prisons,” 28 April 2020, https://www.unodc.org/easternafrica/Stories/responding-to-covid19-in-somalias-prisons.html
- UNICEF, UNODC, UNPOS, “Assessment of the Prison System in Mogadishu/South Central Somalia,” September 2012, https://unpos.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/old_dnn/Assessment%20of%20the%20Prison%20System%20in%20Mogadishu_South_9_2012.pdf
- United Kingdom Home Office, “Country Information and Guidance – Somalia: Prison Conditions,” 9 February 2015, https://www.refworld.org/docid/550002364.html
- UNSOM, “Somalia’s COVID-19 Response: Internally Displaced People Especially at Risk,” 23 June 2020, https://unsom.unmissions.org/somalia%E2%80%99s-covid-19-response-internally-displaced-people-especially-risk
- Our World in Data, “Somalia: Coronavirus Pandemic Country Profile,” 12 March 2021, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/somalia?country=~SOM