News / Africa

Somali Refugees Face Harsh, Uncertain Fate in Ethiopian Camps

The flow of refugees from famine-stricken Somalia into Ethiopia has slowed in recent weeks, but new arrivals are in worse shape than those who arrived months ago at the peak of the exodus.

We’re here now at the border between Somalia and Ethiopia at the point where refugees are coming across.  The refugee flow has diminished from a high of several thousand a day to now about a hundred a day. But still people are arriving in pretty bad shape.  And the concern of the refugee authorities and humanitarian workers is the deteriorating condition of children as they come across.

"These people haven’t chosen to flee, and especially these new arrivals have waited until the drought and famine are at a worse critical stage within Somalia, so conditions there are difficult.  Most of these refugees are goat herders, pastoralists, they’re here because their livestock have died, so it’s for that reason they’ve decided to flee because they’re unable to feed their goats and themselves," said Laura Padoan.

Padoan is the spokeswoman in Dollo Ado for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.  She says many of the new arrivals come with horror stories of life under al-Shabab, the Islamic extremist group that controls much of the famine zone and blocks access to western aid groups.

"The presence of al-Shabab has been a major cause of refugees to flee Somalia.  There is ongoing conflict between the Transitional Federal Government and al-Shabab.  Many of the refugees have been caught in the crossfire," she said.

Among the new arrivals at the transit camp is Mohamed Ahmed, who says he has been trying to escape from al-Shabab for nearly two years.  He lifts his robe to show the scars on his legs and buttocks he says were the result of not following al-Shabab’s orders.

Ahmed says he lost most of his family before he got away. Ahmed says al-Shabab gunmen shot dead two of his wife’s brothers and his seven-year old son while they were trying to leave.  And on the trek to Ethiopia, a two-month old son died of malnutrition. And after that ordeal, his wife is suffering mental illness.

But while refugees say they are happy to be free from al-Shabab, the life they face as refugees in Ethiopia is harsh and uncertain.  The Dollo Ado camps are huge tent cities far from home in a desolate area prone to severe duststorms, where death and disease are never far away.

Hilaweyn Camp, the newest, where most new arrivals are being placed, has a child malnutrition rate of more than 25 percent, and a death rate several times higher than what authorities consider alarming.

Hilaweyn is operated by the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, which in one month has built and staffed a health clinic for the burgeoning population.  Already the clinic treats more than 100 patients a day, many of them severely malnourished children.

Emergency coordinator Voitek Asztabski has traded a comfortable life in the U.S. state of Florida for a tent at Hilaweyn, where he oversees the clinic operation.  Asztabski says despite the alarming death rate, four doctors working round-the-clock are now saving more lives than are lost.

"Last week we lost eight children, [but] most of them definitely will survive, and the whole team here feels like we are saving lives every day, and this is great and it keeps us going here in these extremely difficult conditions as you see in the camp, constant wind, constant dust.  Everybody’s exposed to it so working conditions are extremely difficult, but saving lives this is what keeps us going.  Every day there’s a life saved," he said.

Asztabski expects it will be mid-October before the health of Hilaweyn’s refugee population stabilizes. With the entire region in the grip of one of the worst droughts in decades, and a long range forecast of poor rains until at least early next year, officials say the 120,000 refugees at Dollo Ado could be here for a long time to come.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More