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Refugees Magazine Issue 105 (Life in a refugee camp) - The last to leave

Refugees Magazine, 1 September 1996

A large majority of the Somali refugees the pastoral nomads and the affluent have returned spontaneously to their country. The very poor are stuck in refugee camps.

Amenah Abdi came to Hartisheik in 1988 when a rebellion broke out in north-west Somalia and forced her family of seven to flee. She was then 12 years old and was among the mainly women and children who swept into Ethiopia at the rate of 4,000 a day over a three-month period beginning in May.

Now a young mother of two children, Amenah Abdi remains at Hartisheik, waiting for an opportunity to return to Somalia. She has been abandoned by her husband but feels that if she could get some assistance to help her earn a living she could start life all over again in her country.

Amenah Abdi's eyes light up reminiscing about the good times she had growing up in Hargeisa, Somalia's second largest city. She misses "drinking milk, playing with my brothers." She longs for the comforts of city life that are now denied her two sons, one of whom is suffering from tuberculosis and has been confined at the Hartisheik hospital for 25 days.

Amenah Abdi shares an urban background with most of the 59,000 Somali refugees in Hartisheik. They are former civil servants, shop owners, skilled workers and professionals. Women comprise 22.4 percent of the population, men 22.7 percent and children aged 18 and below 54.7 percent. The breakdown reflects roughly the demographic picture of the 275,994 Somalis in the eight refugee camps in Ethiopia.

A large majority of the several hundred thousand Somali refugees who initially came to Hartisheik were pastoral nomads who had returned to Somalia spontaneously. The more affluent Somali refugees who have money and capital are also back in their country and have set up shops.

But the very poor like Amenah Abdi are stuck in Hartisheik.

Amenah Abdi tried to go home to Hargeisa in early 1994. But clan fighting broke out later that year and she had to return to Hartisheik.

She is particularly vulnerable because she heads a household alone. There are many women like her in the camps whose husbands either are dead or have abandoned them. Special programmes are drawn up for these female heads of households, but their number cannot be pinpointed because no extensive census has been conducted in recent years.

Another victim of that 1994 fighting was Hinda Mohammad, who had to flee to Hartisheik with her husband and newborn daughter. She had managed to live in Hargeisa despite the turmoil of the earlier years, but the 1994 clashes forced her to become a refugee.

"I was living with friends. There was no food. My situation became so desperate. I had to go to a place where I could get some help," said Hinda.

Unfortunately, Hinda arrived in January 1995, when government officials stopped registering refugees for food rations after peace returned to large parts of the Hargeisa region. The officials say even local Ethiopians attempted to register as refugees and that it is very difficult to distinguish locals from refugees. There are suspicions that a large number of the inhabitants of Hartisheik and other refugee camps are locals.

So, Hinda is helped by neighbours who receive regular food rations. To supplement her food needs, Hinda tends a corn and vegetable garden beside her hut. Her husband has a wheelbarrow and sells water to other refugee families. He earns 3 to 4 birrs a day about 60 U.S. cents when there is enough demand. The money is used to buy kerosene for the lamp, sugar and tea and a cup of milk for their child.

"During the rainy season, when we can make money delivering water, there is one maybe two meals a day. But in summer, when there's not enough water and no work to do, we spend a day without eating. We stay in the hut, lie down and sleep," said Hinda.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 105 (1996)




UNHCR country pages


UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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