UNHCR chief praises Ethiopia for open borders, refugee protection

News Stories, 12 July 2013

© Ethiopian Press Agency/N.Tsehay
High Commissioner António Guterres meets Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Addis Ababa today.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 12 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday praised Ethiopia for providing shelter to more than 400,000 refugees while supporting the country's efforts to help neighbouring Somalia emerge from war and rebuild.

On the third and final leg of a regional tour that has also taken him to Somalia and Kenya, Guterres lauded Ethiopia for its open border and asylum policy and said it was "a pillar of refugee protection."

UNHCR works with the Ethiopian Home Ministry's Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and other partners to help some 240,000 Somali refugees in eastern Ethiopia's Dollo Ado and Jijiga areas. Ethiopia also hosts more than 73,000 Eritreans, 62,000 South Sudanese and over 30,000 Sudanese.

The refugee agency and ARRA have developed guidelines to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Somalia, where signs of peace are emerging for the first time in more than two decades. These cross-border efforts aim to provide basic aid and services to people in stable areas.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in a meeting Friday with Guterres, emphasized the opportunity to build a "people to people" bridge between Ethiopia and Somalia and the need to urgently invest in Somalia to create basic infrastructure and services. At the same time, he said, Ethiopia would help more Somali refugees to obtain skills to enable them to be productive when the time comes to return home.

There are also plans under way to expand a self-sufficiency programme allowing skilled refugees to work outside camps. Under this project, some 1,200 Eritrean refugees attend universities. Guterres called the programme "remarkable" after visiting a group of graduates.

An innovative project with the IKEA Foundation is also working to develop self-reliance skills for Somali refugees and local communities in and around Dollo Ado, Kobe and Hilaweyn camps.

Guterres was visiting the region to promote a global initiative to find solutions for Somali refugees. As the country hosting the second largest Somali refugee population after Kenya, and as an influential neighbour, Ethiopia's role was critical, Guterres said. "The idea is to focus on conditions inside Somalia while at the same time mobilizing the support of the international community."

He expressed his concern for an estimated 1,700 separated and unaccompanied Eritrean children living in the Mai-Aini refugee camp and for refugees who undertake dangerous onward journeys from Ethiopia with human traffickers.

In a meeting with ARRA Director Isayas Wolde Giorgis, the High Commissioner reiterated UNHCR's commitment to refugee protection and response. "Ethiopia is living proof of the message that refugee protection is the right thing to do," he said, while adding: "The problem is that the number of refugees coming to Ethiopia is growing and the resources are limited."

Guterres pointed to the Syria conflict, which is draining funds for humanitarian assistance elsewhere. "It is vital, and also strategic, to maintain the support for all humanitarian actions in the Horn of Africa," he stressed.

By Melissa Fleming in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Crisis in Horn of Africa

Tens of thousands of Somalis are fleeing conflict and drought into Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.

Somalia/Ethiopia

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