As Somalia security forces dislodge al-Shabab from new territories in the central regions, the United Nations agency running al-Shabab defector rehabilitation centers says it has not received funding to continue its work.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which implements donor support for the centers in Mogadishu, Baidoa and Kismayo, said it does not have funding for the new year.
“At the moment, IOM has no funding to continue to support the program,” Frantz Celestin, IOM Somalia chief of mission, told VOA Somali.
The agency has recently informed Somali authorities that funding for the multimillion-dollar project could stop in the new year unless the Somali government and donors reach a deal on the future operations of the program.
“If we don’t get the funding between now and 31st December, we will not be in a position to continue to support the program,” Celestin said in a written response to VOA Somali.
“Our support will cease on 31st December 2022.”
The move is not a permanent cessation but a pause until there is an agreement with the government on a way forward, he emphasized.
Known as the National Program for the Treatment and Handling of Disengaged Combatants, the defector project started more than a decade ago and has helped rehabilitate and reintegrate thousands of al-Shabab defectors.
More than 450 defectors are currently benefiting from the program, according to a source familiar with the center. The defectors include men and women who left al-Shabab. Defectors spend up to one year in the centers before they are reintegrated into the community.
Celestin says additional funding is contingent upon an agreement between the donors and the Somali government.
“As has been the case since 2012, the donors are committed to supporting the program, but they would like to see a path to government ownership of the program. I believe this is what’s under discussion,” he told VOA.
The project’s main donors are the United Kingdom and Germany. A spokesperson for the British embassy and the German embassy in Somalia said the two countries have supported the program for many years.
“The program aims to establish a safe pathway for low-risk combatants and associated women to disengage from non-state armed groups and sustainably reintegrate into their communities,” the spokesperson said.
The U.K. and German embassies said they intend to continue the financial support for the program in 2023-24 but indicated they wanted to see the Somali government take over the project.
“To ensure it is sustainable in the long term, ownership will be transitioned to the government of Somalia,” the spokesperson said.
“We are contributing to the design of the transition and are planning to support its implementation once a plan has been confirmed. Discussions remain ongoing.”
VOA Somali reached out to the Somali Internal Security Ministry, the lead government agency in charge of the program. Officials at the ministry declined to be interviewed for this story.
The program’s funding crisis comes at a crucial time as the Somali government and local forces are pushing al-Shabab from large areas of the countryside. Officials believe if the current operations continue the pressure, there will be more defections, which will make the role of the rehabilitation centers even more crucial.
A military source, who asked not to be named because he doesn’t have permission to discuss the topic, said they have recently confirmed 17 al-Shabab militants who surrendered in Middle Shabelle region.
Former Minister of Internal Security Abdullahi Mohamed Nor, who handed over the post in August, says the program is particularly important during this period because of the ongoing operations against al-Shabab.
“At this time, more centers need to be opened and their capacity increased,” Nor said.
He said the centers need to offer psychological counseling support to the defectors who, he said, are “a hundred percent traumatized” because of the violence.
Nor said thousands have graduated from the program and left the centers to reintegrate.
“In Mogadishu for instance, there is always one hundred people in the center, at a minimum,” he said.
He said he supports bringing the program under the control of the Somali government.
“I would like the Somali government to take over responsibility completely because these are sensitive centers, undertaking sensitive work,” he said.
He acknowledged the role of the donors in supporting the program but said it’s right for Somalia to take over.