Somali refugee population still rising in Ethiopia, new camp planned

Briefing Notes, 19 October 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 October 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Ethiopia, the population of the Dollo Ado refugee complex in the country's southeast passed the 170,000-mark last week. Dollo Ado shelters Somali refugees and is the world's biggest refugee complex after Dadaab in Kenya. Although the rate of arrivals at Dollo Ado has slowed this year, people are continuing to flee conflict and insecurity in southern and central parts of Somalia. Many cite fear of harassment and forced recruitment by armed groups who control large rural areas of the country.

Between January and the end of September this year 62,000 Somalis became refugees in the region surrounding their country. More than 25,000 of these fled to Ethiopia making it the largest recipient of Somali refugees in the region so far this year. By comparison Yemen registered 15,000 Somali refugees, Kenya 13,000, Uganda 6,800 and Djibouti 2,300 over the same period.

Overall the number of Somali refugees in the region numbers more than a million. Half of these are in Kenya, while Ethiopia now hosts 214,000 in camps at Dollo Ado and several hundred kilometres to the north at Jijiga. As well as Somalis, who constitute the largest refugee group, Ethiopia also hosts more than 91,000 Sudanese refugees, almost 61,000 Eritreans, and 4,000 refugees from other countries. Every month, Ethiopia generously takes thousands of new arrivals from neighbouring countries.

There are currently five camps in Dollo Ado. The newest is Buramino camp, which opened in November last year, and is now full to capacity with a population of more than 32,000 refugees. New arrivals are also being transferred to the Kobe and Hillaweyn camps. We have increased the accommodation capacity of these two sites to 30,000 people each. The two oldest camps Bokolmanyo and Melkadida each host more than 40,000 people.

With people still arriving at Dollo Ado, the Ethiopian government has authorized the opening of a sixth site and land for this has been designated between the town of Kole and Kobe camp, some 54 km north of Dollo Ado town.

The cost of opening the new camp, setting up basic services and infrastructure including medical, education and warehousing facilities is more than US$ 5 million. We are seeking support from donors and partners, including resources for NGO partners who would be working in the camp. For the initial phase, we urgently need US$1.5 million for site preparation, land demarcation and setting up basic infrastructure including drilling of bore holes, setting up water points, emergency clinic, latrines, etc. The terrain in the Dollo Ado area is rocky and hard, posing additional challenges. In 2012 we have received US$44 million against the needs assessed at more than US$ 112 million.

Refugees typically arrive with a few belongings only. Their most urgent needs are emergency shelters, food and essential aid items. To address these needs, we dispatched a convoy of nine trucks from Kenya last week, carrying 10,000 plastic sheets, 500 plastic rolls, 20,000 blankets, 15,000 sleeping mats, 15,000 mosquito nets, and 10,000 collapsible jerry cans. The trucks arrived at Dollo Ado through the southern border crossing of Moyale on 10 October and the aid is being distributed to new arrivals in the camps.

Meanwhile, a long awaited 1,600 meter all-weather airstrip opened in Dollo Ado on 3 October, significantly upgrading access for humanitarian staff and transportation of cargo. Funded by the US government, the airstrip was constructed by a WFP field-engineering team who worked closely with the Ethiopian civil aviation and road authorities. This is an important and major improvement for humanitarian organizations working in Dollo Ado as adverse weather conditions often rendered the old airstrip unusable. The only other access involved a three day trip on poor roads, severely delaying emergency interventions and urgent medical evacuations.

Somalia remains one of the world's longest and worst refugee crises. In the past decade only the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq forced more than a million people to flee their homes. A third of Somalia's estimated 7.5 million population lives in forced displacement either as refugees or internally displaced people.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +25 19 1120 8901
  • In Ethiopia: Natalia Prokopchuk on mobile: +25 19 1121 0271
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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