March 29, 2012
A rehabilitation programme for al-Shabaab defectors is providing the former combatants with educational and employment opportunities and promises of a "brighter future", Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials and former al-Shabaab members told Sabahi.
Three days after the TFG declared victory against al-Shabaab in Mogadishu last August, when the militant group withdrew from its bases in the capital, the government announced that fighters who denounce the militant group would receive amnesty.
Recently, local government officials have extended the offer of amnesty to al-Shabaab defectors in other regions, especially youth.
"The government has welcomed defectors from al-Shabaab, granted them amnesty and provided full welfare support," Somali Minister of Interior Affairs and National Security Abdi Ali Hassan told Sabahi.
"The government of Somalia with the support of its friendly international community --particularly the United Nations Political Office in Somalia, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, AMISOM and other organisations -- is busy implementing a programme meant to provide free education and job opportunities to youth who defected from al-Shabaab in order to empower them mentally and economically," Hassan said.
"The government of Somalia is appealing to the international community to support these programmes meant to provide rehabilitative services to these children affected by the armed conflict, particularly those misguided by al-Shabaab," he said.
Omar Ali Roble, former minister for disarmament and reintegration of militias, stressed the importance of providing effective rehabilitation services to former al-Shabaab fighters.
"The government has to make the rehabilitation of al-Shabaab defectors a priority," he told Sabahi. "They have to receive counselling to reverse the ideologies al-Shabaab brainwashed them with, and then give them opportunities such as free educational services and other important survival skills to support themselves -- otherwise, these defected fighters from al-Shabaab can pose a security threat."
"The government should take advantage of the existing opportunities such as the ready support from the international community to assist in the rehabilitation of the defectors from al-Shabaab," Roble said. "These defectors should be handled immediately, otherwise they may become a hurdle to the security achieved in the country."
Hassan said the current rehabilitation programme addresses these concerns.
"The programme for rehabilitating al-Shabaab defectors is really progressing well," he said. "Some were given free educational services. Others are being trained to equip them with important skills after which they will be able to find jobs to improve their lives in future."
Since the government announced its amnesty programme, the number of defectors who either surrendered to the TFG or defected informally, have been increasing regularly.
More than 500 youth have defected from al-Shabaab and surrendered themselves to the government since the amnesty programme began, according to government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman "Yariisow".
Osman said the former fighters are being kept in a special rehabilitation centre for al-Shabaab defectors.
Sabahi spoke with some of the youth who are now living in the Mariino Centre for al-Shabaab defectors.
Ali Hasan Elmi, 24, said he was a member of al-Shabaab for a long time, but defected several months ago.
"We were welcomed by the TFG forces after we surrendered ourselves and were each given $500 in exchange for our arms," he told Sabahi. "We were taken to a good place to live and we were informed that we will be given free education. We were also told that anyone who wants a job will be given a special training to equip us with important skills and those who opt to join the TFG forces will be supported by the government."
Elmi said his life has improved significantly after defecting from al-Shabaab and receiving government assistance.
"I would like to urge those youth who are still with al-Shabaab to defect and surrender themselves to the TFG. Their lives will improve and they will have a bright future if they leave al-Shabaab," Elmi said.
Abdirahman Mahamed Hashi, 22, another former al-Shabaab fighter, told Sabahi, "I am very happy that I surrendered to the government and left al-Shabaab."
"We were given amnesty by the government, we took advantage of it and I would like to urge those youth who are still fighting for al-Shabaab to defect from them like me," he said. "The militia is not looking out for your interest, but only want you get killed in the battle front."
Hashi said the youth who defected from al-Shabaab have played a big role in helping TFG forces stabilise security in the country.
"From the time we surrendered to the government, we assisted the security forces in arresting several members of the militia who were living and hiding in areas controlled by the government," he said.
Mahamed Sheikh Ibrahim, a former security officer for the Islamic Courts Union regime, said many youths have left al-Shabaab in recent months because of the financial crisis the militia is facing. He said the fighters are losing hope in al-Shabaab and are turning to the government's offer of amnesty.
"For some reason related to the standoff between the leaders of al-Shabaab, the financial crisis of the militia and the excessive military defeats the group experienced, the youth defect from al-Shabaab and surrender to the government," Ibrahim told Sabahi. "The government has played an important role in welcoming the defected fighters and granting them amnesty."
Representatives from the TFG, AMISOM, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the United Nations Political Office in Somalia, as well as lawmakers and civil-society activists gathered at a two-day conference in Mogadishu March 17th and 18th to share their experience in formulating a policy on how to manage the disengagement, screening and re-integration of former combatants.
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