This article aims to contribute to an increased understanding of the importance of migration in humanitarian and ‘post-humanitarian’ contexts, by exploring the interlinkages between protection and displacement. It argues that the strategies by which conflict-displaced populations protect themselves are largely based on mobility. Yet, humanitarian approaches to displaced populations do not take sufficient account of the mobility needs of those they assist. Furthermore, the actual location at which aid is provided is affected by funding realities and donor priorities. This article discusses the case of protracted displacement realities of Somali refugees and internally displaced people in Kenya, Somaliland and south-central Somalia. Based on in-depth semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with humanitarian aid workers and displaced people, the article offers an analysis of the recent ‘stabilization discourse’ that fuels programming directed at the return of displaced Somalis. The authors argue that humanitarian protection is compromised by immobile aid practices and by humanitarian programmes that are guided by states’ interest in refugee return.