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3.6. Humanitarian workers and human rights defenders

Last updated: June 2022

This profile refers to employees of humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies, as well as individual activists and human rights defenders.

COI summary

Somalia is one of the most insecure countries in the world to operate in for humanitarian workers, who face execution, arrest, detention and abduction. During 2020, the UN recorded 56 incidents involving violence against humanitarian workers, assets and facilities. More specifically, 24 humanitarian workers were abducted, all of them Somali nationals, and most of these abductions were attributed to Al-Shabaab. [Targeting, 6.4., pp. 95-96]

Al-Shabaab continues to threaten and directly target humanitarian workers when their community support activities are not acceptable to the group. It has carried out attacks on employees of humanitarian NGOs and UN agencies and their families. Humanitarian workers are perceived by Al-Shabaab as associated with international actors through funding. The group is prompt to suspect international agencies and their local partners to conduct intelligence (see also sub-profile 3.2.5. Civilians perceived as ‘spies’ by Al-Shabaab). Al-Shabaab also threatened the lives of the personnel of secular and faith-based humanitarian aid organizations accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity. Besides attacks, Al-Shabaab reportedly carried out abductions of humanitarian workers in order to exert its control over outreach programmes and extort money from humanitarian organizations. [Targeting, 6.4., pp. 95-96]

A female advocate in support of women’s rights has also been targeted. And in several cases, providers of services for gender-based violence survivors were directly threatened by authorities when such abuses had been perpetrated by men in uniform. [Targeting, 2.2., p. 35].


Conclusions and guidance 

   Do the acts qualify as persecution under Article 9 QD?   

Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. assassination, abduction).

   What is the level of risk of persecution (well-founded fear)?   

In South-Central Somalia and Puntland, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated in the case of humanitarian workers and human rights defenders, in particular in view of Al-Shabaab’s pervasive presence in these areas.

In Somaliland, the individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as visibility of profile, nature of activities, area of origin and operational capacity of Al-Shabaab, etc.

   Are the reasons for persecution falling within Article 10 QD (nexus)?   

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of religion and/or (imputed) political opinion.