Aid workers return to violence-hit Ethiopian camp; hundreds relocated
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jan 10 (UNHCR) - Aid workers returning for the first time to Ethiopia's Fugnido camp, the scene of deadly ethnic clashes last November, have found refugees living in desperate conditions, and have relocated more than 500 of them to another camp.
Ethnic fighting had erupted in the south-western Ethiopian camp on November 27 between the Anuak refugees on the one hand, and the Nuer and Dinka communities on the other, leaving 42 refugees dead and scores of others wounded. For security reasons, aid workers were not permitted to go to the volatile camp until recently.
Staff of the UN refugee agency who visited Fugnido camp for the first time in weeks said the situation was still tense. They found a number of refugees, mainly from minority ethnic groups that were particularly affected by the clashes, living in desperate conditions - lacking basic supplies and with no shelter from the severe, hot and dry weather at this time of the year. The visiting team immediately distributed to them plastic sheeting for shelter, jerry cans, blankets and basic kitchen utensils.
According to UNHCR staff, a number of refugees from the minority ethnic Anuak community have abandoned their huts in the camp and are living among the local Ethiopian community - who are also ethnic Anuak - for fear of reprisals for the refugee killings. The Dinka community, also a minority in the camp, are equally fearful for their safety and have also left their part of the camp to join the Nuer community, the majority ethnic group in the camp established close to the Sudan/Ethiopia border.
On December 28, a total of 531 refugees were moved from Fugnido camp to Bonga camp aboard eight buses organised by UNHCR and ARRA (Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs), the Ethiopian government department that oversees refugee matters. Bonga, home to nearly 17,000 Sudanese refugees of the Uduk community, is located 160 km north-east of Fugnido.
Among the refugees relocated to Bonga is a group of nearly 200 who had fled into a compound housing UNHCR and ARRA staff in Fugnido after the November clashes. They are mainly Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians, minority groups in the camp that were anxious for their safety and had asked to be moved elsewhere.
Fugnido camp, re-established in 1993, is home to more than 28,700 refugees and is the largest of five refugee settlements in south-western Ethiopia's Gambella region, where a total of 85,000 Sudanese are sheltered. The camp was first opened in 1988 but closed in 1991 in the aftermath of the civil war that broke out in Ethiopia.
The recent clashes in Fugnido erupted over control of the camp's minority committee, among other issues. Tensions reportedly mirror tribal and political conflicts among the host community in the remote corner of Ethiopia. The refugees' affiliations with various factions of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) are also said to be fuelling the dispute, along with disagreements over grazing rights.
Last week, UNHCR senior staff met with the Ethiopian Minister for Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa and appealed for added security in and around Fugnido camp. They made a similar appeal to the Regional State President of Gambella during a visit to Gambella this week.
UNHCR staff also visited seven refugees held in police custody in Gambella in connection with the recent killings in Fugnido. The refugees are among a group of more than 70 people, mainly from the local community, being held by authorities for their suspected involvement in the armed clashes.