Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

I Will Never Forget Her Face

UN Migration Agency's Bashir Mukhtar talks to his colleague Mary-Sanyu Osire about his humanitarian work

Somalia - On a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Kismaayo, Somalia, hundreds of people pack into a settlement for displaced people. Bashir Mukhtar stands at a water point, helping weary women lift jerry cans of water. Over the last five years, he has witnessed a wave of humanitarian crises, affecting many communities in south Somalia’s Jubbaland. Mukhtar could have easily opted for another profession but decided that humanitarian work in one of the harshest environments was his calling.

“My passion has all always been to aid the poor and the vulnerable, helping them have a better life. I was born and raised in a poor community in Somalia, and this is how I give back to society,” said Mukhtar.

The port city of Kismaayo, where Mukhtar works with IOM, the UN Migration Agency, hosts a large population of vulnerable individuals – local residents, people displaced by the prolonged drought and conflict in various parts of the country, as well as refugees returning home from neighbouring countries.

“Our activities picked up early this year, when people needed food, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as medical services,” explained Mukhtar. “We had to act fast to save lives and avert a looming famine.”

Humanitarian workers like Bashir made it possible for more than 3 million Somalis to be reached every month with life-saving assistance and livelihood support. The recent drought, for example, affected more than six million people and displaced more than 800,000. This led to an influx of arrivals in major cities like Kismaayo, Baidoa and Mogadishu.

“I witnessed human suffering of the highest magnitude: emaciated children, mothers exhausted by the drought, fathers too weak to provide for their families,” said Mukhtar.

Although needs remain critical, Bashir is happy that the emergency response has helped save the lives of hundreds of vulnerable individuals living inside and outside displacement settlements.

Despite the drive and commitment to reach as many vulnerable populations as possible, there are challenges that make humanitarian work difficult, risky and sometimes frustrating.

“Our major challenge is the lack of adequate funds to meet the needs of vulnerable people. We struggle to reach as many people as possible, and humanitarian crises are becoming more frequent on the continent,” noted Mukhtar.
Often, the number of those in need of help is higher than the available resources.

“In 2014, I met an elderly woman. She begged to be part of a group we were giving humanitarian aid to. Though she met the criteria, we failed to include her because she arrived after the selection had been made. It was one of the most painful moments on my life, and I will never forget her face,” Bashir recalled.
Bashir knows that IOM will continue projects to improve the lives of vulnerable migrants and their host communities. In Kismaayo, the Organization runs four health centres in Dalxiiska, Alanley, Guulwade and Fanoole villages, where some of the most vulnerable populations are found. IOM also implements projects focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), displacement tracking, shelter and non-food items (NFIs), food security and protection, border management, and institutional capacity building.