Ethiopia, 25 July 2012: In Ethiopia's refugee camps, life-saving assistance for Somali arrivals
One year ago, on 20 July 2011, the United Nations declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia, the flashpoint in a humanitarian crisis gripping the Horn of Africa. After an outpouring of international support, the famine ended in February 2012, and countless lives across the region were saved. But 8 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya remain in need of humanitarian assistance, and UNICEF’s relief efforts must continue.
By Indrias Getachew
DOLLO ADO, Ethiopia, 25 July 2012 – Mariami Ibrahim raised her hand in protest.
“Never,” she declared when asked if she plans to return to Somalia.
Ms. Ibrahim arrived in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, near the borders of Somalia and Kenya, twelve months ago, following a harrowing trek from her home near Baidoa, Somalia.
“We left home because of the drought and the fighting,” she said. “I walked for 10 days with my children, carrying the little one on my back. We left our home because we had no more food, not a grain of sorghum to eat. The children were crying, ‘Mama, we are thirsty, give us water. Mama we are hungry, give us food,’ but I had nothing to give them. When we got here, the children were very thin, their bones pushing against their skin.”
They have been living in the Kobe refugee camp for the past year.
“They were admitted for treatment and got better. Here we are safe and there is medicine. I do not want to go back.”
Critical health services
Ms. Ibrahim and her three children receive much-needed health care at the Kobe mobile health care unit.
The unit has been working, with support from UNICEF, since September 2011 to provide health and nutrition services for the refugee population. The services were especially critical at the height of the emergency in 2011, when malnutrition rates were high and measles outbreaks threatened thousands of lives.
Part of the unit’s role is to improve the healthcare-seeking behaviour of the refugees, many of whom come from areas where health care is unavailable. Through the Somali Region Health Bureau, UNICEF has supported training for nurses. UNICEF also provides drugs and supplies.
Four-year-old Ahado has developed skin problems, and her two brothers, 7-year-old Abdi and 2-year-old Hassan, have been complaining of pain in their ears.
The children were examined by the mobile team’s nurses, who handed Ms. Ibrahim antibiotics to treat the boys’ ear infections and antifungal ointment for Ahado’s scalp. When they were finished, Ms. Ibrahim led them back to their tent.
Furnishings in the tent were scant, but hanging on one side of the tent were school bags and supplies provided by UNICEF. The older children are now going to school.
“When we first got here, there was little for the children to do. They would sit around, bored, staring into space,” said Ms. Ibrahim. “Since the school opened, however, every weekday morning I wash them and prepare food for them and send them to learn.”
Since opening more than a year ago, things have improved for the residents of Kobe and the four other refugee camps in the Dollo Ado area. Within the five camps, there are approximately 161,000 refugees, many of them school-aged children.
UNICEF initiated the Emergency Education Programme for refugee children. More than 120 school tents have been erected to complement the pre-existing learning facilities in the camps run by the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA).
Today, there are more than 180 active classrooms with over 25,000 children accessing safe learning environments. In addition to the tents, UNICEF has supported the construction and furnishing of four permanent schools and provided school bags, hygiene kits, teachers’ kits, recreational kits, and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Some 174 teachers have been trained on pedagogy and peace-building, and child-friendly spaces with playground equipment have been provided.
Long-term prospects uncertain
The long-term prospects for Somali refugees in Ethiopia remain uncertain. Following a period of decline, the number of refugee arrivals has significantly increased, from 1,800 arriving in Dollo Ado in April to more than 3,200 and 4,700 in May and June, respectively. Refugees cite tension and failed rains in Somalia for the surge.
The five camps are full, and plans are underway to build a sixth camp to accommodate new arrivals. UNICEF is raising funds to maintain and sustain the emergency support that is saving lives and ensuring children’s basic rights.
This support has given refugees like Ms. Ibrahim hope for the future.
In her tent, she rested under an insecticide-treated mosquito net, also provided by UNICEF. Nine months pregnant, she has been receiving antenatal care from the Kobe health center. “I would like to move out of this tent and into more permanent housing,” she said.
“I want to start a small business and earn money so that I don’t have to be dependent on outside help. My children are going to school, and I want them to be educated and learn to be independent and not look out for handouts. That is what I want.”
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