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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech 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.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs