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

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.

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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.

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The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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