LANGUAGE: SOMALI & ARABIC
CURRENCY: SOMALI SHILLING (SOS) & SOMALILAND SHILLING & US DOLLAR
POPULATION SIZE: 11,26 MILLION
CALLING CODE: +252
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A turbulent political past marked by colonial rule, famine, cross-border war and domestic armed conflict has majorly contributed to the current chaotic state of the country. Amidst this political turmoil, Somalia’s state institutions have almost fully disintegrated and the country has administratively fallen apart into three regions, namely the self-declared independent state of Somaliland, semi-autonomous Puntland and Southern Somalia.
While no part of Somalia is truly safe, Puntland and Somaliland are generally considered to be less dangerous and more stable than Southern Somalia. Yet, interclan tensions in the Sanaag and Sool regions on the border between Somaliland and Puntland remain high and regularly erupt into violence with little or no warning. Northeastern Puntland is home to Islamic State in Somalia and the presence of IS-militias and Al-Shabaab causes unrest in the region. While the largest part of Southern Somalia is controlled by government forces with the help of African peace keeping troops, the situation is extremely volatile and unpredictable. This is mainly due to the presence of armed opposition groups, militias and Al-Shabaab who are responsible for a great number of fatalities both in rural as urban areas.
The high rate of terrorism, kidnapping and armed conflict as well as the high level of violent crime poses a serious risk to any individual travelling to Somalia. Acts of terrorism occur regularly throughout the entire country. Potential targets include crowded places or events, government officials and institutions, public transport and places known to be visited by foreigners such as hotels, restaurants and shopping areas. Mogadishu is particularly notorious as Al-Shabaab and various armed opposition groups carry out attacks almost on a daily basis. Often used methods of attack include among others car bombs, suicide bombers, heavily armed gunmen and mortar fire. While terrorism occurs less frequently in Somaliland, the risk of a terrorist attack is still substantial.
Additionally, there is a very high risk of being kidnapped by a terrorist, criminal or piracy group in all regions of Somalia. Kidnappings happen everywhere and one should be highly vigilant at all times for example when visiting refugee camps, religious gatherings, places of worship, shopping malls and transport hubs. Humanitarian aid workers, journalists and business people are considered legitimate targets and the reason for your presence does not guarantee your security. The entire country is prone to civil unrest which often leads to violent conflict. It is highly advised to avoid all sorts of demonstrations, protests or large gatherings. Violent crime including murder, armed robbery and banditry occurs often in Somalia and police forces are unable to effectively uphold the rule of law.
Transportation in Somalia is rather risky. Most roads are in poor condition and the absence of traffic lights and road lighting makes driving particularly dangerous. Highway robbery occurs regularly and landmines and other explosive devices are scattered throughout the country. Additionally, government forces have set up many checkpoints along the Somali roads and travelers will be charged to pass through. Roadblocks are also used by both the government and Al-Shabaab to track down individuals who heal with the enemy. Upon encountering such a blockade, it is advised to keep a low profile and strictly follow instructions.
Somali waters are extremely insecure and if possible, vessels are strongly advised to avoid the territorial and international waters off Somalia. There is a high risk of piracy and armed robbery against all forms of maritime traffic off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean and any vessel entering these waters runs a high risk of being hijacked or held hostage for ransom. The area where Somali pirates are active reaches exceptionally far and it is advised to stay at least 1850km/1000 nautical miles away from the Somali coast, even though this distance might not even be safe. When still willing to enter Somali waters, one should take appropriate security measures.
While there are no direct flights to Somalia from Western countries, some renowned Middle Eastern and African airlines, such as Qatar Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines, do operate flights to Mogadishu and Hargeisa. The presence of Westerners, however, make Mogadishu International Airport, and to a lesser extent other airports, an attractive target to be attacked. These attacks or just regular fighting recurrently force airports and airlines to temporarily suspend operations which makes Somali air traffic quite unpredictable. Additionally, local airlines do not always operate in accordance with international safety regulations and procedures. Flying domestically is thus certainly not wihout risks, it is often still considered safer than travelling by land.
The quality of Somalia's health care system is generally very poor. While the city of Hargeisa in Somaliland has some acceptable hospitals, medical facilities in the rest of the country are extremely limited or non-existent. There is a nation-wide shortage of medication and many pharmacies distribute counterfeit or expired medicines. Due to the overall lack of health care facilities, evacuation to another country to receive proper treatment is inevitable once fallen seriously ill. If you do receive treatment in Somalia, most care providers require up-front cash payments in either US dollars or Somali shilling.
Mosquito-borne diseases including dengue and yellow fever are common throughout Somalia and there is especially a high risk of acquiring malaria. HIV/AIDS is prevalent among the Somali population and it is strongly recommended to avoid exposure to other people’s bodily fluids. The lack of proper sanitation, clean water facilities and poor hygiene standards are a major contributor to the spread of diseases. Contaminated food and water can cause several illnesses such as acute diarrhea, typhoid, hepatitis A or schistosomiasis. Additionally, Somalia regularly suffers from outbreaks of cholera and measles.
Somalia’s climate is very hot and dry all year around with day temperatures sometimes exceeding 45ºC/ 110ºF during the hottest months. Its main rain season lasts from April to late May and the second rain season from October to early December. Yet, rainfall in Somalia is quite irregular and when it occurs in the form of short, heavy showers, the parched soil can have difficulty absorbing the sudden abundance of water which regularly results in flooding. These alternating periods of droughts and floods have lead to food shortages and the displacement of thousands of people which has in turn increased the risk of diseases and crime.
Somalia has a pluralist legal system composed of a mixture of civil, Islamic and customary (Xeer) law. In areas ruled by Al-Shabaab or other insurgent groups, a stricter interpretation of Islamic or Shari’a law is adhered to. Respecting local laws is essential and one should dress and behave conservatively. Be aware that enforcement of criminal laws is arbitrary and the right to a fair trial is not always respected. The possession, use or selling of alcoholic beverages and drugs (except qat) is strictly forbidden. Violators of these prohibitions risk severe punishments such as long prison sentences and heavy fines. During the holy month of Ramadan, one should be extra aware of religious and cultural traditions, rules and customs. Do not eat, drink or smoke in public and respect those who fast. Preaching another religion than Islam or distributing Bibles is not allowed.
Somalia is a rather male-dominated society with quite a conservative notion of the role of women. Although any form of violence against women is prohibited by Somalia’s provisional federal constitution, sexual violence against women remains a regularly recurring problem. Due to the lack of governmental institutions and absence of the rule of law, it is virtually impossible to legally prosecute sexual offenders. The Somali dress code requires women to cover their hair with a hijab or headscarf and to wear an abaya or similar clothing such as a long skirt and long-sleeved top. Women must refrain from wearing trousers.
Sexual acts between individuals of the same sex is prohibited by Somali law and can be penalized with imprisonment, flogging or the death penalty. A sexual orientation other than heterosexuality is considered taboo in Somali society and LGBTIQ-individuals are strongly advised not to display or make one’s sexual preference publicly known.
» Get all necessary vaccinations
» Purchase a health insurance which covers travel in Somalia, overseas medical costs and medical evacuation
» Take a first aid kit
» Take all necessary preventive medication
» Keep a copy of important documents, such as passport, bank cards, health insurance card and medical overview online
» Prevent predictable behavior, alternate travel routes and times on a daily basis
» Always keep a high level of situational awareness
» Strictly comply to instructions given by local authorities
» Stay on well-used paths and roads
» Avoid places known to be often visited by Westerners and public buildings such as hospitals, government buildings, airports, transport hubs, hotels and malls
» Avoid mass and politically motivated meetings
» Monitor local news outlets to stay up-to-date about political developments
» If you happen to be in an area affected by violence, leave as soon as possible. If safely leaving is not possible, find a safe spot, remain indoors and follow local advice.
» Always have an adequate stock of water, food, fuel, cash and medicines
» Only drink bottled or boiled water, only eat well-cooked food, peel your own vegetables and fruit, and avoid unpasteurized dairy products
» Be aware and respect local customs and traditions, dress modestly and behave discreetly
» Avoid the use of non-sterile medical equipment
» Avoid all contact with sick people and animals
» Wash your hands regularly with soap
» Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse
» Monitor local weather reports closely and take necessary preparations on time
» Consult a doctor immediately if you become ill after returning from Somalia
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