UNHCR appeals for $136.3 million as Horn of Africa crisis grows

News Stories, 8 July 2011

A new arrival from Somalia looks on as UNHCR chief António Guterres visits the Dollo Ado refugee transit centre in south-eastern Ethiopia.

[Editors: This story updated 8 July at 17:30 GMT]

DOLLO ADO, Ethiopia, July 8 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has appealed for $136.3 million to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe amid a growing exodus of Somalis fleeing conflict and drought in their homeland.

The additional funding will help to address the life-saving needs of new Somali arrivals in neighbouring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in the region to highlight the plight of these new refugees, many of them severely malnourished. On Thursday, he led a small mission to Dollo Ado, a parched and remote area in south-eastern Ethiopia bordering Somalia, where tens of thousands of Somalis have sought refuge in recent months.

Over several hours Guterres and his team toured separate reception and transit areas near Dollo Ado, speaking to refugees and humanitarian workers. They then headed some 60 kilometres westwards along rock-strewn roads to a new refugee camp at Kobe, which was opened just weeks ago but is already nearing its full 20,000-person capacity under the weight of new arrivals.

"2011 has been the year of all crises, but I think that in Somalia we can find the worst humanitarian disaster of this year," Guterres told accompanying journalists. "Our heart is broken when we see mothers telling us that after having walked for days to reach safety, they have lost their children along the way [and] to see children dying and then doctors not being able to help because it is too late."

What Guterres saw during the visit, was telling both about the impact that Somalia's latest crisis is having on its own displaced now amounting to a quarter of the country's entire population and about the difficulties that humanitarian organizations are facing in their response.

For the refugees, the stress and exhaustion is plain to see on the faces of new arrivals, who wait in lines to be registered and receive ration cards and other help. Most are from the Bay region to the west of Mogadishu, and some say they have walked for up to 30 days to reach here. "My father is critically ill, but I had to take my six children and leave because of the insecurity," said one woman. "We can't live there." Others spoke of children having died along the way.

For Somalia, already in a state of breakdown from its decades-long conflict, the drought has led to a dramatic new rise in displacement. Food output has fallen, food aid is in short supply, and food prices have consequently increased sharply. Compounding these difficulties has been an offensive by pro-government forces against al-Shabaab insurgents in towns near the Kenya and Ethiopia borders that started in February. Since then the number of refugees arriving here in Dollo Ado has risen with every passing month: Some 54,000 arrivals so far this year, and an average of nearly 1,700 every day for the last few weeks. In short, people have to become refugees to get aid.

Among these recent arrivals in Dollo Ado, malnutrition and mortality rates are alarmingly high. At least 50 per cent of children are either moderately or severely malnourished. Similar rates are being recorded in Kenya.

Meanwhile humanitarian workers and their government counterparts are fast becoming overwhelmed. The sheer numbers of arrivals are outpacing registration capacity; systems for meeting the food and health needs are close to buckling; and electricity for pumping water to camps is in short supply because overcast and dust-laden skies mean solar panels can't cope.

Then there's the problem of space. Kobe refugee camp is the third camp to have opened here so far, but even just weeks old it is approaching its full capacity of 20,000 people. En route to the camp, Guterres' team passed a convoy of several hundred more refugees headed to Kobe, where row upon row of UNHCR tents stretch towards the horizon. Further new camps are clearly needed urgently and could be provided if international support is forthcoming.

Speaking to journalists who accompanied the visit, Guterres spoke of the need for humanitarian help inside Somalia so that people didn't have to flee across borders simply to survive. Currently, insecurity prevents or limits the degree to which humanitarian actors can work in Somalia. And in Dollo Ado they see the human cost each day the families who arrive exhausted, the children who perish along the way, seemingly a whole population on the move. "It's a situation that breaks people's hearts," Guterres said.

By Adrian Edwards in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia



Ethiopia: Somali arrivalsPlay video

Ethiopia: Somali arrivals

This parched and remote corner of southeast Ethiopia has received an endless flow of Somali refugees, many of them malnourished and bearing tragic stories.

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


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.


Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
Canada: Light Years Ahead
Play video

Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.
Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee InfluxPlay video

Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee Influx

Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in early May, fighting continues between government and opposition forces in South Sudan. The renewed conflict has forced thousands of refugees to seek shelter in Ethiopia.