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Camps in east Ethiopia struggle to cope with influx of Somali refugees

News Stories, 4 August 2011

© UNHCR/L.Padoan
Somali refugees wait in line for hot food at a camp in Dollo Ado.

DOLLO ADO, Ethiopia, August 4 (UNHCR) Deep in the Ogaden desert one of the most remote regions in Africa a sprawling city of tents is emerging. More than 118,000 Somali refugees reside in the three camps run by UNHCR and the government in eastern Ethiopia's Dollo Ado district.

But the camps are struggling to cope with the continuing influx and the UN refugee agency is urgently constructing a fourth camp at Heloweyn to provide shelter for up to 40,000 people. Together with its partners, Médecins Sans Frontières and Save the Children, UNHCR will soon begin to transfer around 15,000 refugees to Heloweyn, some of whom have been waiting for up to one month in the transit centre at Dollo Ado.

About 1,000 kilometres from the capital, Addis Ababa, Dollo Ado lies close to the borders with troubled Somalia and Kenya, where some 400,000 Somalis have sought shelter in the crowded camps of Dadaab.

The refugees in Dollo Ado are being sheltered in three camps Kobe, Malkadida and Bokolmanyo. Each was designed to accommodate 20,000 people, but the total in each camp is now almost double that.

The new arrivals, almost all of them women and children, are only too willing to tell of the appalling conditions that compelled them to flee and seek safety and succour far from their homes. Years of war have long forced people to flee Somalia, but this year a deadly drought has multiplied the exodus rate.

Barey, a heavily pregnant 31-year-old from the Bay region of southern Somalia, arrived here earlier this week with her five children. They arrived by truck, but did not have enough to pay for Barey's husband and he stayed behind to care for his blind father.

"For the past three years there has been no rain and our harvest has failed again," she explained. "In my village I owned 15 cattle and 100 goats. They all died because there was nothing for them to eat [or drink]."

Person after person staggering into Dollo Ado, many of them after walking for weeks, has a similar story of loss and suffering to tell. Without their livestock and water sources, rural folk from Somalia simply can't survive.

Conditions around Dollo Aldo give an idea of what the Somalis have had to cope with. Vegetation is sparse and sand blasts through the arid terrain. In these conditions, UNHCR teams are delivering shelter, food, water and health services to the displaced. Further aid is on its way, including tents, medical supplies and equipment to drill water wells.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is concerned about fresh violence between government forces and the opposition Al-Shabaab militia, which is also triggering flight in south and central Somalia.

The continuing insecurity makes the journey out of the country more perilous. Forced to move at night through bush areas, some refugees are travelling hundreds of extra kilometres in order to escape notice. Men and teenage boys are at risk of recruitment.

For now, Barey is relieved to have reached safety: "I came to Ethiopia hoping for a better life for my children. But if the rains come and peace returns to Somalia, I want to go back to my country."

By Laura Padoan in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia




Crisis in Horn of Africa

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: Education, A Refugee's Call to ServePlay video

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to Serve

War forced Lim Bol Thong to flee South Sudan, putting his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold. As a refugee in the Kule camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, he has found another way to serve. Just 21 years old, Lim started teaching chemistry at the school's primary school and last year was promoted to Vice Principal.
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