Impact of Somali Refugees Influx on Ethiopia


A burned tank is left on the side of a very dusty gravel road in Guramille village, some 1,100 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. On the other side of the road a few hundreds of meters away there is a fortress of Ethiopian army with tombs who fought back Somalis invasion army of the 1977. The people in the area say that the tank, which is left on the roadside for over three decades, was attacked by the Somali’s army during the invasion.

Partial view of Melkadida refugee camp in Ethiopia with 38,000 Somali refugees Photo August 31, 2011

Thirty four years later, Ethiopia now found itself yet again under the invasion of tens of thousands of Somalis. But this time the invaders are unarmed. The drought in their country and Al Shabaab’s leadership, which Ethiopia listed as a terrorist group, forced them to flee from their country.

Forgetting and forgiving Siad Barre’s government aggression, Ethiopia decided to welcome hundreds of Somali refugees everyday. Carrying the social, economic and environmental burden, the country allowed these refugees to build their huts near the graves of Ethiopian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the invasion.

Now the previous battlefield is surrounded with four refugee camps with a total of some 120,000 Somali refugees. “We can’t close our doors to these people,” says Estifanos Gebre Medhin, Legal and Protection Department Head at Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (AARA), which is an organ of Ethiopian Intelligence and Security Services. He hopes that the people to people relationship between neighboring countries will continue even though those who are on power like Al Shabaab cause problems.

“We believe that Al Shabaab will change someday. Like we did to the people of South Sudan, We have the responsibility to save the lives of these people during such hardship. We hope that they will get back to their country when peace restored like in the Southern Sudan,” says Estifanos who briefed journalists on Sunday (August 31, 2011) at Melkadida refugee camp, one of the four camps with a total of 38,000 Somali refugees.

On  Arrival
“We came to Ethiopia because it is our neighbor and more peaceful than Somalia at the moment,” says Abta Ali, 48, who traveled two days with eight children to reach Dollo Ado refugee transit center. “When we arrived, they gave us a meal prepared from rice, meat and potato.”

The center is filled with some 15,000 Somali refugees fleeing from South Somalia. Here they get meal twice a day. They wait to be relocated in the fourth refugee camp in Ethiopia, which is expected to be opened soon. After they are screened and registered, the refugees get food and medical treatment. The refugees stay for a maximum of two weeks until documents are prepared for them in order to relocate them in the camps.

Escaping from Al Shabaab’s ‘unfair’ taxation and drought, some of these refugees such as Asgower Adem, 20, travel for weeks to reach the center. “As most of them are women and children, we get closer up to 3 kilometers to the Somali border in order to save the lives of these people,” Estifanos says.

In one of the tents in the center, Abshir Ishmael, 30, an employee of Save the Children, is busy with other three colleagues in supplying supplementary food to lactating mothers and children. “One of the challenges we are facing in the center is the lack of enough food to feed all lactating mothers and children,” he says.

Relocation and Consequences
Next to the transition center there are four refugee camps dedicated to Somali refugees. Between each camp there is an average distance of 20 to 25 kilometers. Unlike the transit center, here the refugees do not get cooked food. Every month, they receive wheat flour, oil and salt to cook their meal daily. This is where they will start experiencing a more settled life style as refugee.

Latest data shows that currently there are over 120,000 refugees in four camps around Dollo Ado area. 76,000 of them arrived in Dadaab in the last two months alone. Receiving such huge amount of refugees is costing the host nation (Ethiopia) environmentally and socially, among others.

In order to cook their meal, they cut the trees in the area. They also cut the trees to replace their plastic tents with wooden huts. Not only this, they are also deforesting the area by cutting these trees and using them for fencing their huts.

In addition, some residents of Dollo Ado, the Gerimero community (blend of Somali and Amhara), who claim to be the first settlers of Dollo Ado, have also begun complaining about the increment in cost of living and insecurity after the arrivals of the refugees. “Today we are invaded with Degodia tribe of Somalia,” says Mohammed Adem, 60, who says he was in Dollo Ado town for forty years.

Dollo Ado town Photo-

“I personally don’t feel safe since it is difficult for me to identify who belongs to Al Shabaab. As their number is growing dramatically, they are also making expensive house rents and cost of other goods,” he complains.

Mohammed, who estimates that the total population of Dollo Ado has reached around 40,000, strengthens his security threat with the availability of Somali and Kenya-based mobile communication services in the town. “We use different crosschecking mechanisms when we register refugees coming from Al Shabaaab-controlled areas,” says Estifanos, responding to the worry of Dollo Ado residents.

On the other hand, some argue that opening doors for hundreds of Somali refugees who mainly come from Al Shabaab-controlled regions of Somalia, has benefits far beyond saving the lives of the refugees. They say that the current humanitarian support will ultimately lead to political objective of weakening Al Shabaab by withdrawing the tax payers and potential people who may be forced to join the group.

“Finally, this may lead to an international air attack on Al Shabaab like we see now on Libya,” says a political observer of the region who talked to on anonymity.

Kenya Town In Ethiopia?
Dollo Ado town, which is located some 1,260 kilometers South of Addis Ababa, via Negelle-Borenna and Filtu towns, is bordered with Kenya and Somalia. To cross to Kenya’s Medira town, one only pays 60 birr (less than 4 US dollars) out of which 10 birr will be paid to cross Genale River.

Even though it an Ethiopian town, one can find Ethiopian products rarely in Dollo Ado. Starting from foods, water to tchat, over 90 percent of products and services are from Kenya. Right-wheel vehicles without plates, electronics equipments, juices, soft drinks, medicines, plastics and cosmetics, all comes from the neighboring Kenya.

In addition, Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation’s mobile service ends some 300 kilometers before reaching Dollo Ado town. After Biftu town one has to throw his/her ETC mobile sim-card and shift to Kenya’s Safari Com or one of the two Somalis mobile service providers.