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UNHCR starts moving Somali refugees to a new camp in Ethiopia

News Stories, 3 April 2009

© UNHCR/P.Wiggers
A young Somali refugee cooks dinner at the Dalo Ado transit centre. UNHCR has begun moving the refugees to a new camp.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, April 3 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday began the relocation of thousands of Somali refugees from a transit centre in Dolo Ado, south-east Ethiopia to the newly opened Bokolmanyo camp, further inland from the border with Somalia.

A first convoy of 10 buses left Dolo Ado this morning carrying 157 Somali refugees, who fled the renewed fighting in central and southern Somalia over the past few months. They are part of a group of 5,000 Somalis who have recently been recognized as refugees by the Ethiopian government with the expert support of UNHCR. They will all be moved to Bokolmanyo

In addition, some 5,000 Somalis are staying with the local community in Dolo Ado and waiting to be screened. They claim to have fled the fighting and general insecurity in Somalia, most of them leaving the country after the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops last December and January.

In February, UNHCR reported the presence of an estimated 10,000 Somali asylum seekers in Dolo Ado, most of whom have been enjoying the hospitality of Ethiopians who are ethnic Somalis. The opening of the new camp and subsequent extension of international protection and assistance might encourage thousands of others living with the community to apply for asylum.

The land at Bokolmanyo, located north-west of Dolo Ado, has been provided by the local authorities. The new camp can accommodate up to 20,000 refugees and UNHCR and its partners are intensifying the work of expanding basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation services, a health centre, relevant basic communal facilities and a children's centre. Establishment of schools and other facilities and services is also planned.

After arriving at Bokolmanyo, the refugees will spend about three days in a reception area where they will be allocated plots of land and given building materials to construct their huts. Refugees will also be provided with food as well as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, family tents and mosquito nets.

The Somali region of Ethiopia already hosts more than 33,000 Somali refugees in three camps Kebribeyah, Shedder and Aw Barre. With the new arrivals, the total is expected to pass the 40,000 mark very soon.

At the peak of the Somali refugee crisis in the early 1990s, the region hosted 628,000 refugees in eight camps. The overwhelming majority of those refugees returned to their homes between 1997 and 2005. However, by mid-2005, UNHCR had closed all camps but the Kebribeyah site. Unfortunately, due to renewed conflicts and general violence in southern and central parts of Somalia, two new camps had to be opened in Ethiopia in 2007 and 2008 to accommodate new refugees fleeing Somalia.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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UNHCR country pages

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.

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