Shared services help refugees and locals coexist in Somaliland

Integrated service delivery in Somaliland is allowing refugees to share services and live side by side with their hosting communities.

Ethiopian refugee Asha Mohammed Daud, 28 and her son Habed receive health services at Hargeisa Group Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
© UNHCR/Caroline Opile

Asha Mohammed Daud walks briskly into the Hargeisa Group Hospital, carrying her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Habed on her arm. The 28-year-old mother is grateful to step out of the bright sunlight and into the hospital’s relieving shade.

At the main public and referral hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland, Habed is examined by a doctor who confirms that he has a broken arm.  He will get the treatment and medication he needs, putting Asha’s mind at ease.

Asha and her family have lived in Hargeisa since 2008 when they left Ethiopia.

“Life is good here and we have never experienced any problems with the Somali community,” she says. “They accommodate us, have taught us their language and given us food when we are lacking.”

“Whether you are a refugee or a local, it doesn’t matter, we are all treated the same because we speak one language – Somali.”

When they first arrived in Somaliland, Asha, like all other refugees, accessed medical care at a private hospital where UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, paid approximately US$ 25 for the services. Five years later, all refugees now access comprehensive care and treatment at the main public hospital, just like the local residents, at a reasonable fee of US$ 16 paid for by UNHCR.

“The services are of good quality and when we have emergencies at night, we are well taken care of,” adds Asha. “Whether you are a refugee or a local, it doesn’t matter, we are all treated the same because we speak one language – Somali.”

UNHCR through its health partner, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), has seconded two medical doctors to the hospital and rehabilitated rooms that are used for consultations. On average, the hospital treats 25 refugee patients daily, providing outpatient care, maternity services and nutritional health to refugees and locals alike.  

Somalia - Shared services

Asha Mohammed Daud looks on as a physician examines her son's arm at Hargeisa referral hospital, Somaliland.  © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

“The partnership with the hospital is an example of how the government is supporting inclusivity and integrated service delivery for both refugees and hosting communities,” explains Caroline Van Buren, UNHCR Representative in Somalia.  She adds that the cost of health care per person has greatly reduced, enabling UNHCR to provide health services to more people.

This partnership, through the National Displacement and Refugee Agency (NDRA) has extended to nearly all spheres of public service, including in education and employment.

At the Sheikh Ali Osman School, one of the public schools that has integrated refugees and locals into the curriculum, refugee and local children study side by side, learning in the same language of instruction – Somali. Offering free primary education, the school has seen an increase in enrollment, mostly of Ethiopian refugees.

Asha Hassan has been a teacher at the school for over two decades. She has seen how the policy on inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers into the education system has improved their access to education, contributing to greater harmony.

“In the early 1990s, when Ethiopian refugees arrived in Somaliland, they used to attend one public school, learning in isolated classes, without interacting with the local children,” she explains. She adds that it was not automatic for refugees to be admitted to public schools, compared to the current situation when they now have access to quality education and are taught by professional teachers deployed by the government.  

“The students coexist so well that it’s difficult to tell who is a refugee child and who is from the host community.”

In 2016, UNHCR partnered with 18 public schools and renovated classrooms as part of their contribution to the host community. Asha believes this helped boost the inclusion of refugees into the public schools.

“The students coexist so well that nowadays it’s difficult to tell who is a refugee child and who is from the host community because they speak the same language, dress the same, learn the same subjects and are also admitted into public secondary schools,” she adds.

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Asha Hassan, the head teacher of Sheikh Ali Osman School, stands with some of her students during lunch break. She has taught here for 22 years.   © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

NDRA works closely with UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to provide support to refugees, streamlining service delivery to them and the local communities they live in. They enjoy freedom of movement aside from access to public health and educational institutions.

“We also issue them with business permits which encourages them to be self-reliant,” explains Abdikarim Ahmed Mohamed, the chairperson of the NDRA. He adds that refugees can seek employment in private institutions as well.

“Displaced people need international protection and assistance as they have fundamental rights just like any other person,” he adds. “We encourage them to be independent and contribute to their communities.”

Hargeisa is a vibrant city, thriving with potential as the local communities and the displaced enjoy shared services and equal opportunities.  The region has approximately 18,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Ethiopia and Yemen.   

“Displaced people need international protection and assistance as they have fundamental rights just like any other person.”

The steps that Somaliland has taken towards inclusivity and integration of refugees into national systems is aligned with the new approach towards displacement, placing Somaliland in an exemplary position in the region.

Despite dwindling funds for displaced persons, UNHCR’s Van Buren notes that steps are being taken to reduce the cost of education and health services for refugees.

“The gains that have been made in increasing the asylum space for refugees in Somaliland can’t be lost. We will continue working tirelessly to ensure that does not happen,” she says.