The brutal bout of warfare which followed last year's invasion by Ethiopia, and the subsequent ouster of the Islamic Courts Union, means that, for the second year in a row, Somalia tops MRG's Peoples under Threat (PUT) table. PUT is a predictive tool, forecasting the places in the world where civilian protection will be worst in 2008, and where people are most at risk of mass murder, genocide or other extreme forms of violence. This means that, however bad 2007 was, 2008 in Somalia is likely to be worse.

Already the situation is catastrophic. In November 2007, UNHCR announced that the total number of people displaced has been a 'staggering' 1 million. Human rights groups complained that all sides were responsible for indiscriminate attacks on civilians, mass arrests and looting. Although Somalia has experienced over a decade of anarchy since the fall of dictator Siad Barre, the current fighting is particularly perilous because of the internationalization of the conflict. The involvement of external actors – both regional governments, like Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the US – has meant that the ramifications of this warfare are spreading beyond Somalia. This has potentially catastrophic implications for civilians in the region, but specifically for minorities – both inside and outside Somalia's borders. The conflict in Somalia has already been linked to a 2007 upsurge of fighting in the Ethiopian Ogaden region, with ethnic Somali civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. Sensitivities over discriminatory treatment of Muslims in Kenya have been exacerbated by allegations that the Kenyan government 'rendered' some Kenyans suspected of involvement in the Islamic Courts Union to Ethiopia, instead of trying them in their home country.

Because of the fighting, it is extremely difficult to obtain up-to-date information about the fate of Somalia's small, vulnerable minorities: at the best of times, information about these groups is difficult to come by. But if past patterns of violence are repeated, Somali minority communities will suffer greatly. According to Amnesty International, the Somali minorities comprise principally the 'African' Bantu/Jarir, who are mostly landless labourers; the Benadiri/Rer Hamar urban traders of Middle Eastern origin; and the smaller, dispersed Gaboye caste-based minorities, who are generally employed as metal workers, leather-workers, hairdressers, herbalists and others. There are other smaller minorities, such as the Ashraf and Shikhal Muslim religious communities, Bajuni fishing people and remote hunter-gatherer groups. What these groups have in common is their vulnerability, as they fall outside Somalia's clan-based structure. They do not benefit from the protections of warlords and militias. But they are also vulnerable to increased risk of rape, attack, abduction and having their property seized by criminals in an increased atmosphere of lawlessness. Equally, when some semblance of calm does return, they have little chance of gaining compensation for their losses, again because they fall outside the clan structure.

An Amnesty International Report in 2005 stated that the majority of over 300,000 internally displaced persons in several parts of Somalia are members of minority groups. It said: 'They subsist in mainly unregulated settlements in abject conditions, with international relief assistance reportedly often diverted and stolen by members of local clans.' The same report also noted that the international agencies involved in relief distribution were poorly informed about the special risks faced by minorities during times of insecurity.

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