Ethiopia renews commitment to hosting Somali refugees as UNHCR Special Envoy visits country

Somalis make up over one-third of the 783,000 refugees currently living in Ethiopia

Ethiopia/ Somali refugees / Somali mothers gather at Baby Friendly Space supported by Unicef and operated by Save the Children USA at Kobe refugee camp. / UNHCR / / J. Ose / June 2012  © UNHCR/Jiro Ose

ADDIS ABABA (UNHCR) – Ethiopia has renewed its commitment to continue hosting Somali refugees for as long as needed, as the newly appointed UNHCR Special Envoy for Somali refugees, Ambassador Mohamed Affey, concluded a four-day visit to the country.

The Special Envoy, who is on a global mission to refocus attention on the Somali refugee situation and facilitate conditions to expand durable solutions, met with Ethiopian authorities and African Union officials. He was accompanied by UNHCR’s Representative in Ethiopia, Ms. Clementine Nkweta-Salami, and UNHCR’s Representative to the African Union and the UNECA, Mr. Cosmas Chanda, respectively.

Ethiopia’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Taye Atske-Selasie, welcomed the appointment of Ambassador Affey as the High Commissioner’s Special Envoy and assured him of his government’s support in his efforts to advocate on behalf of the Somali refugees. “To be forgotten is the worst thing that can happen to any situation and Ethiopia will continue to work closely with UNHCR and other actors to put the issue of Somali refugees on the map again”, he said.

The State Minister noted that it would be difficult to consider the Somalis as foreigners having stayed in the country for a quarter of a century. He added that his government is working to improve their conditions by enhancing among other things education and self-reliance opportunities.

At the Obama Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis convened in New York last September, Ethiopia made a number of important pledges for the benefit of refugees, including improving educational and self-reliance opportunities, job creation as well as local integration for those who have lived in the country for 20 years and more.

Ambassador Affey appreciated Ethiopia’s longstanding and generous hospitality to refugees and the government’s lead role in helping the people of Somalia to bring normalcy to their country. He acknowledged the government’s resolve to further improve the living conditions of the refugees through the pledges. The Special Envoy expressed UNHCR’s readiness to work closely with the Ethiopian government in mobilizing resources that can be invested to improve the lives of refugees and host communities, who, he said, shoulder the brunt of the responsibility.

Recalling the decision of the 28th Extraordinary Summit of the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government to convene a special summit on Somali refugees, Ambassador Affey expressed confidence that Ethiopia, as the Chair of IGAD, would take the lead to make that happen.

Ambassador Affey held separate meetings with Ambassador Febe Potgieter-Gqbule, Officer-in-Charge of the African Union as well as the Ambassador of Niger, current chair of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. He praised the African Union for its active engagement in Somalia which he said helped the country reach the current level of state formation. This, he said, would pave the way for Somalia to create the conditions necessary for the return of its displaced populations.

Ambassador Potgieter-Gqbule welcomed the appointment of the Special Envoy and assured him of the AU’s support for the success of his mission, including through a possible visit to Mogadishu of the Chairperson of the African Union.

The Special Envoy also visited the Dollo Ado camps, sheltering 217,000 of the almost 255,000 Somali refugees in Ethiopia. He had extensive discussions with representatives of different refugee structures in the five camps, including women and youth. The refugees told him they feel safe and secured in the camps and have excellent relations with their hosts. However, they stressed that services are limited. They particularly mentioned issues related to food and nutrition and pleaded with the Special Envoy for his support to improve their living conditions. Several of them also mentioned the need to promote resettlement opportunities for as many refugees as possible as a lasting solution to their plight.

The Special Envoy took note of their concerns and frustrations and pledged his commitment to work hard with the Ethiopian government, his colleagues in UNHCR and the donor community to improve their conditions. Somali refugees make up 32.5 % of the over 783,000 refugees currently hosted in Ethiopia.

During meetings with leaders of the local administrations, Ambassador Affey expressed gratitude for hosting the refugees for a long time and with such a great care. He pleaded for their continued support and assured them of UNHCR’s determination to ensure that support is provided to the host communities as well.

Ambassador Affey also paid a courtesy call on the Ambassador of Somalia to Ethiopia as well as the Deputy Director of the government refugee agency- Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs.

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