Ethiopian Internally Displaced: A Crisis Forgotten
February 1, 2019 (Ezega.com) - Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed has adopted new reforms that challenge the status quo; both economically and politically. They come at a time when ethnically motivated violence is intensifying across the country. The continuous cycle of violence presents a huge humanitarian challenge, not only for Ethiopia but to the rest of the world. The country needs to adopt strategies that lessen ethnic tensions and facilitate assistance to the IDPs.
The Displacement Predicament:
Presently, there are more than 3 million internally displaced persons in the country. Two-thirds have fled the violence, but the remainder were affected by the floods and droughts. At the moment, more than 8 million Ethiopian’s are in need of emergency food aid. More alarming is that they are chronically vulnerable.
Of the 3 million IDPs, more than 1 million are in Oromia. For instance, in the town of Dede, you’d expect to find at least 8,000 displaced persons. However, the town has overgrown its capacity and families are living in scattered sites around the area. They reside in corrugated iron huts that were constructed to host fifty families fleeing Somali region.
Qoloji camp hosts the largest number of IDPs from the Somali regional state. It has 80,000 occupants, majorly from the Somali ethnic community. A significant number also comes from the Oromia region and have been here for more than a year.
Those in the camps are in urgent need of clean drinking water and sanitation. UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) that is financed by the EU Humanitarian Aid has constructed showers and latrines in a bid to raise hygiene awareness among the IDPs.
The organization has so far trained 16 hygiene promoters who were selected by the people. Each of the 16 will be tasked with training 30 women. They teach the women about prevention and after they accomplish their task, they’ll make a follow up from house to house to monitor the program’s progress.
Lack of Attention:
Refugees get attention worldwide, but it’s a question of perception. People look at displacement differently, especially where conflict is the motivator. At the same time, there are those displaced by droughts and are receiving food aid. The situation is worsened by the budgetary constraints the international aid agencies face due to protracted global calamities in Yemen, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, and Sudan.
Drought isn’t cognizant of the borders though international law categorizes people into IDPs and refugees. The 1951 Refugee Convention contends that any refugee who crosses the border should be accorded international aid, but IDPs are a responsibility of their national governments.
Some IDPs feel abandoned. 70-year old Abiyu Alsow who lives in a ramshackle shelter on the edge of Dollo Odo says they don’t oppose the support refugees get. They are simply frustrated because they aren’t getting support from the state of the Ngo’s.
Somali region has the largest population of IDPs which is approximately more than 1 million as reported by the IOM. The presence of IDPs signifies the existence of disorder in the country. As a result, successive regimes in Ethiopia have approached the issue gingerly. IDPs have ended up suffering the consequences.
In 2017, AFRICAN BUSINESS cited the account of one of the directors of a humanitarian agency who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said it was not normal in the government circles for people to talk about the internally displaced persons. But presently, it’s impossible for the current regime to continue burying its head in the sand regarding the issue.
Many people within the humanitarian aid agencies continue to heap praise on Ethiopia’s open-door refugee policy, which has resulted in its hosting of more than 800,000 refugees. This is commendable bearing in mind western countries are keen to reduce migrants into their countries. However, questions are still being raised about the country’s IDPs and the way they are being handled.
Ethiopia is a recipient of billions of dollars in aid money and it enjoys bilateral support from many western nations. But there’s a huge disconnect between aid to the IDPs and the refugees. Why? Experts suggest there is a lack of goodwill on the part of the stakeholders involved in ensuring these people get back to their feet.
Donors who would offer financial assistance to the IDPs are also facing financial challenges. In 2016 alone, they provided $1.8 billion in aid, whereas Ethiopia’s government added another $700 million to cater for the internally displaced persons. Humanitarian aid donors are forced to make hard decisions because they have to work with less money.
On his visit to Ethiopia last year, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid said it’s important for the country, in collaboration with partners, to focus on specific projects that can help the IDPs become self-reliant. It’s essential to give them dignity during these trying times. He was aware of the political change sweeping the country and pledged the support of the European Union to see them through and to see that Abiy succeeds in his transformation agenda.
Ethiopia has 600 IDP sites and most of them aren’t camps at all. For instance, in Deder (Oromia), the IDPs live among the local population or in government buildings that were emptied for use during emergencies.
The number of IDPs is increasing daily. Children are being born in the camps, people sleep on the hard ground and in make-shift houses as they lack basic necessities. But solving the needs of the displaced starts with understanding their demographics. Once that is done, it becomes easy to coordinate any intervention and aid from the NGOs and the government.
In this regard, the current regime is willing and working closely with willing humanitarian agencies, not all are concerned with IDPs- to ensure these persons regain their normal lives. This will make it possible for relevant authorities to offer assistance efficiently. But the key takeaway is that Ethiopia must deal with its underlying issues, like perennial drought and ethnic strife that is the cause of displacement of people. While doing so, people shouldn’t be coerced into returning to unsafe areas.
By Solomon O. for Ezega News