Ethiopian camps swell with internal migrants as most aid goes elsewhere

Fourteen kilometres outside the Ethiopian town of Gode, a group of women with bands of dusty children clutching their dresses point to a patch of ground on the outskirts of their makeshift settlement, where their prized black-headed sheep lie dead.

The women remain friendly despite their predicament. But a male pastoralist arrives and his temper starts to fray. “If you aren’t going to do anything for us then go away!” he tells a government official.

In Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region there are 264 sites containing nearly 600,000 internally-displaced persons (IDPs), according to a survey conducted by the International Organisation for Migration between May and June 2017.

The region contains the largest proportion of the total of just over a million IDPs identified by the organisation throughout Ethiopia. Many sites have reported having no access to food and international assistance is sorely needed to help the Ethiopian government to cope.

Incongruity

But international aid is often geared toward those who crossed international borders. Hence the incongruity of many of the region’s struggling inhabitants receiving less assistance than refugees who entered the region from neighbouring Somalia.

A woman leads her skinny cattle at an IDP settlement 60km south of the town of Gode, reachable only along a dirt track through the desiccated landscape. Photograph: James Jeffrey
A woman leads her skinny cattle at an IDP settlement 60km south of the town of Gode, reachable only along a dirt track through the desiccated landscape. Photograph: James Jeffrey

“Refugees get global attention – the issue has been around a long time, and it’s just how people look at it, especially if conflict is involved,” says Hamidu Jalleh, working for the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Somali region, in Gode. People displaced by climatic or weather conditions don’t get the same attention, she points out.

IDPs are only one part of the humanitarian challenge for those tackling the drought in Ethiopia’s Somali region, in which the inhabitants are ethnically Somali but Ethiopian nationals: 2.5 million people will require food assistance in the second half of this year, according to aid agencies, while some report this number is expected to be revised upwards of 3.3 million by the middle of this month.

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On top of this, the international humanitarian aid network is straining due to successive protracted global crises in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria. The UN says the world is facing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since the second World War, endangering 20 million lives.

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