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Displaced hope: Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have fled the fighting in Mogadishu since civil war broke out in 1991. Many of these refugees embark on a perilous journey that leads to an even more ominous reality in the refugee camps of Puntland and Somaliland. These semi-autonomous regions in the country's north have seen relatively little fighting, compared to the south, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are safer.  Above, Somali boys hang out on a hill overlooking a refugee camp for the thousands of internally displaced people.

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Shantytown: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.5 million Somalis, a sixth of the population, are now internally displaced. Many of them live in the tent cities, like this one in Somaliland, that have sprouted up over the last few years. On the trek to these camps, refugees are constantly under attack by militias seeking to rape or rob them.

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The typical refugee camp hut, like the ones above, is constructed of acacia branches, cloth and rice sacks. It is usually 22 to 24 square feet. Families live in these huts along with their livestock.  Refugees' goats have sometimes been known to attract hyenas that try to chew through the huts.

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The camps house mostly women and children. Most men have either abandoned their families, or have left to find work elsewhere in Africa or across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen. This leaves women as the primary breadwinners, hawking clothing and goat's milk to stay solvent. Here, boys play on a roof overlooking a camp in Somaliland.

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Children are not only casualties of the fighting and fleeing, but are also sometimes used as financial instruments. If the women cannot pay the $3 rent for a hut, the landlord may take a child instead, giving him or her back only after being paid.

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  With their husbands gone, women in the camps are constantly targeted by thieves and rapists. Often women will pay one of the few remaining men to guard them. The criminals are rarely punished, protected by Somalia's system of traditional clan loyalty.  "Here the strongest man takes all," one U.N. official told Agence France Presse,

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Refugees share their experiences with a U.N. official at a camp in Bossaso, a city in northern Somalia. After traveling to the Somaliland and Puntland to tour the camps in October, Walter Kalin, the U.N. Secretary General's representative for internally displaced people said that the international community is failing Somalia's refugees.

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Colonial ghosts: Refugees jump rope in what used to be the British Governor's house. The northern region of Somalia was part of the British protectorate of Somaliland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the area's permanent structures are deteriorating relics from that era.

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The long road ahead: The United Nations condemned the camps as "unacceptable" but after freezing $50 million in aid shipments to Somalia earlier this month, it unclear what they can do to fix them. Officials are trying to find a safer way to make sure aid gets to the people who need it most. With Somalia's violence itself rarely making international headlines, the plight of these victims seems unlikely to draw the attention of policymakers. 

 

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?A Whale of a Controversy

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