New camp opens for Somalis in Ethiopia as fighting rages in Mogadishu
Last Friday, February 12th, we started relocation of Somali refugees from a transit centre in Ethiopia's Dolo Ado, near the border with Somalia, to a new camp at Melkadida some 65 kilometres away. The first convoy, consisting of 11 buses and two trucks carrying their luggage, transported 247 Somali refugees who had fled worsening security and limited access to humanitarian aid in central and southern Somalia over the past weeks. They are part of a group of 7,000 Somalis who have recently been recognized as refugees by the Ethiopian government with UNHCR expert support.
Melkadida is the second camp in south-east Ethiopia and the fifth camp in Ethiopia accommodating Somali refugees. The first one, Bokolmanyo which opened in April last year to accommodate 20,000 refugees, has reached capacity.
The land at Melkadida on which the new camp was constructed has been provided by the local authorities. It can accommodate up to 20,000 refugees and we and our partners are intensifying the work of expanding basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation services, a health center, relevant basic communal facilities and a children's center. Establishment of schools and other facilities and services is also planned.
After arriving at Melkadida, refugees spend three days in a reception area after which they move to their allocated plots of land. Currently, emergency tents have been erected until permanent shelters are in place. Refugees are provided with food as well as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans and mosquito nets. The plan is to relocate 500 refugees a week from the transit center to the new camp.
The Somali Region of Ethiopia already hosts more than 60,000 Somali refugees in four camps - Au-Barre, Bokolmanyo, Kebribeyah, and Sheder. Somalis are arriving in Ethiopia at an average of 200 individuals per day, and we are already planning for further camps near Melkadida.
At the peak of the Somali refugee crisis in the early 90s, the region hosted 628,000 refugees in eight camps. The overwhelming majority of those refugees returned to their homes between 1997 and 2005. But by mid 2005, we had closed all camps but the Kebribeyah site. Unfortunately, due to renewed conflict and general violence in southern and central parts of Somalia, three new camps had to be opened in Ethiopia in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The context behind this is a situation in Mogadishu in which some 13,600 people have been forced from their homes over the past two weeks alone as a result of clashes between the Transitional Federal Government forces and armed opposition groups. Of these, only 8,800 managed to escape from the capital, mainly to the IDP settlements in the Afgooye corridor, while 4,800 people are stranded in relatively safer areas of Mogadishu, namely Hodaan, Karaan, Wadajir and Dayniile.
The number of casualties and of people injured in the cross fire is alarming. At least 50 people were reportedly killed and over 100 were injured since the conflict intensified last week.
Meanwhile we are carrying out a distribution of emergency relief items including plastic sheets, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and sanitary cloth to 18,000 displaced people in villages the vicinity of Dhussammarebb in central Somalia, where over 28,000 people were displaced in January following renewed clashes between Alu Sunna Wal Jamma and Al-Shabaab earlier this year.
So far this year we have seen 6450 people arriving in Kenya, of whom 2400 arrived in February.