Italian project offers path to hope for vulnerable refugees in Ethiopia

Italy is extending a lifeline to families in need through its Humanitarian Corridors Programme.

Twelve-year-old Somali refugee Barwako (in pink coat) is heading for Italy, where her family hopes she can get treatment for a skin disease that has eaten away her lower lip.
© UNHCR/Diana Diaz

For 12-year-old Barwako, another day passes in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, without her going to school. The timid Somali girl has been affected by a skin disease since she was four and has been ashamed of her appearance for most of her life.


“Whenever I go to school, the children insult me and take away my scarf,” she says, gripping the scarf that partially hides her face. “They tell me to uncover my mouth. I am scared because I don’t want them to see me.”

Barwako’s mother, Kadija Hussen Abdi, has struggled to find the right medical care for her daughter. To add to her misery, the family faced threats from Al Shabaab militants in 2010, forcing them to leave Somalia and flee to Ethiopia.

“They beat me several times and even came twice to my home asking where my husband was,” she says. “They warned me that, if they returned and he wasn’t there, they would take me.”

While on the move, Barwako’s condition worsened. Once in Ethiopia, the family was able to get the disease under control, but unfortunately Barwako lost her lower lip.

“They said that there’s nothing they can do in the country.”

Years of countless visits to different doctors in Addis Ababa in the hope of obtaining effective treatment have yielded no long-lasting results.

“She has gone through many referrals and hospitals,” Kadija says, gesturing towards Barwako. “They said that there’s nothing they can do in the country.”

Finally, there is hope. Barwako and her family have been selected to relocate to Italy as part of a Humanitarian Corridors Programme, supported by the Italian government and led by Italian faith-based organizations.

With the community of Sant'Egidio in Italy, the Italian Bishops’ Conference through its humanitarian organizations Caritas Italiana and Migrantes are helping Barwako move to a country where she will finally receive the medical attention she needs. She is one of 2,500 people around the world that Italy has agreed to take in under the programme.

Ethiopia: Vulnerable refugees given new home and hope in Italy (Diana Diaz, camera-editor)

Italy is among the 193 member states of the United Nations that adopted the New York Declaration in 2016, committing members to better share responsibility for the world’s refugees and support the communities that host them. This included drawing up a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), which Ethiopia officially launched in November.

An important objective of the CRRF and the global compact on refugees is to expand refugees' access to third countries through resettlement or other forms of admission, such as Italy's Humanitarian Corridors Programme.

“I wish I can get my mouth fixed so that I can pursue my education and become a teacher.”

The High Commissioner’s 10th Dialogue on Protection Challenges in Geneva on 12 and 13 December will focus on progress towards a global compact on refugees. The meeting will assess the results of consultations that took place in 2017, and bring together the lessons learned so far from the application of the CRRF.

By opening up options for the some of the most vulnerable to move to third countries under the Humanitarian Corridors Programme, Italy is helping in the global effort for more comprehensive responses to refugees. Through the programme, 500 refugees living in Ethiopia who are vulnerable because of personal circumstances, age or health, or who have family ties in Italy, will have an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Kadija can now picture a better life for her daughter.

“I dream of going to a place where everyone around me helps me find a home and find peace,” she says. “Somewhere where she can get medication and we can be happy.”

Barwako is on the verge of seeing her dream come true and starting a new life.

“I wish I can get my mouth fixed so that I can go to school, pursue my education and become a teacher,” she says.