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Feature: IDPs in Western Oromia face challenges as authorities expedite return programs amid absence of essential infrastructure

Humanitarian personnel providing assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Horro Guduru Wollega Zone in January 2023 (Photo: Oromia Physicians Association)

By Abdi Biyenssa @ABiyenssa

Addis Abeba – In the heart of Western Oromia, a relentless battle has been unfolding for years, plunging the region into a maelstrom of chaos and uncertainty.

The clash between government forces and rebel factions, including the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and the non-state militia, Fano, from the neighboring Amhara region, has transformed the landscape into a battleground of ideologies and power.

As bullets fly and tensions escalate, Western Oromia has been grappling with the harrowing aftermath, beset by grave socioeconomic and political crises spawned by the relentless conflicts. Amidst the turmoil, internal displacement haunts the populace, echoing the toll of a region torn asunder by the ravages of war.

The latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), released on 01 March 2024, unveils a grim reality: as of February 2024, a staggering 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) seek refuge in camps and host communities across Oromia, out of whom nearly 800,000 resides in Western Oromia.

The report, outlined in stark detail by OCHA, underscores the severity of the crisis gripping Ethiopia, where regions like Somali, Oromia, and Tigray bear the brunt of relentless upheaval. According to the report, as of September 2023, these regions accounted for the highest IDP caseloads in the country, with Oromia alone representing 29.5% of the staggering total.

Recently, the authorities in Oromia region have initiated activities to repatriate residents who were forcibly displaced from their homes in Western Oromia region to their villages, including those who fled the area to the Amhara region.

Belay Temesgen (pseudonym utilized for security purposes), a father of six children, who found himself and his family in dire circumstances within the Amuru district of the Horro Guduru Wollega zone, was compelled to vacate his residence in Agamsa village in August 2020 due to an indiscriminate assault, which he said was “orchestrated by Fano.”

The repercussions of the attack were profound for Belay and his fellow farmers. According to him, a multitude of individuals suffered the loss of parents, children, and siblings on top of loosing their livelihoods. Personally, Belay endured the loss of two donkeys, eight sheep, twelve goats, and fifteen cows seized by the rebel factions.

Furthermore, his toils in cultivating maize, sorghum, coffee, and other crops across three hectares of land were futile. “The rebel group systematically destroyed and plundered the fruits of my labor,” he told Addis Standard.

As per Belay’s account, the displaced populace in the region hailed from several villages, notably Agamsa, Cidhatti, Jaboo Doban, Harar Jarso, and Hamus Gebeya, all of which bore the brunt of the onslaught, destroying their residences and possessions.

The rebel group systematically destroyed and plundered the fruits of my labor.”

Belay Temesgen, an IDP in Western Oromia

These villages fall within the jurisdiction of the Amuru district. In the solitary village of Harar Jarso, approximately 860 cows were seized, while over 1,890 cows and more than 800 donkeys were abducted, according to Belay.

Seeking refuge from the attack, Belay and his family sought shelter at the IDP camp located in Shambu town, the capital of Horro Guduru Wollega zone, where they endured for over a year. Subsequently, they were resettled to Obora town within the Amuru vicinity.

However, they encountered a fresh challenge as they were instructed by the district administrator of Amuru to relocate to Walo Haro village, notwithstanding the absence of essential infrastructure, notably water supply.

Belay’s experience is not an isolated incident.

Benti Fekadu, whose identity has been anonymized for security reasons, is a native resident of the Ebantu district within the East Wollega zone. Before being compelled to abandon his residence owing to the precarious security conditions in his village caused by recurrent assaults by armed groups, he led a prosperous life alongside his wife and five children.

Benti used to cultivate six hectares of land in his community, yielding staple crops such as teff, coffee, and maize. Additionally, he maintained a livestock inventory comprising twenty cows, eleven sheep, twelve hens, six donkeys, and seven goats.

“Unfortunately, armed militias perpetrated the theft of all my possessions, including livestock,” he recalls.

Expressing his desire to return to his hometown, Benti voiced deep concerns regarding the lack of financial resources and assistance imperative for initiating a fresh start. With insufficient access to shelter and necessities essential for their daily sustenance, he harbors apprehensions regarding the survival of his family.

Return to destroyed homes, livelihoods

The UN agency, in its report, emphasized that IDPs in the Oromia region, such as Belay and Benti, have not received sufficient attention regarding humanitarian aid, despite their critical circumstances.

As per the findings by OCHA, approximately 794,000 IDPs across the four Wellega zones (West, East, Kelem, and Horo Guduru), as well as the North and West Shewa zones, require provisions including food, sanitation, healthcare, and nutritional support.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Gida Ayana district, located within the East Wollega zone of the Oromia region, were subjected to insufficient provisions of food, water, and medical services for an extended period (Photo: Gida Ayana Communication Bureau)

The poignant narrative of Adanech Tesfaye serves as evidence of the inadequate attention internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Oromia region are receiving in terms of humanitarian aid, despite their dire circumstances.

Adanech, whose name has been altered to safeguard her identity, formerly resided in Dangir village within Gida Ayana, situated in the East Wollega zone of the Oromia region.

She, accompanied by her two children, Eyob, a tenth-grade student, and Chala, a fifth-grade student, was compelled to evacuate on November 29, 2022, following attacks by the Fano armed group.

Adanech, previously engaged in corn cultivation on a one-hectare plot within the community, also tended to a livestock inventory consisting of four cows and one donkey. However, during the militia incursion two years ago, her corn fields were set ablaze, and her livestock were stolen.

After being displaced, Adanech and her fellow villagers sought temporary refuge at Kiramu Elementary School and Kokofe Elementary School in Gida Ayana. However, they were forced to evacuate once more this year, just days before the start of the school year.

Abdisa Lamessa, the program coordinator of the Gurmu Development Association, a local charitable organization, revealed that 18 out of the 19 villages situated in East Wollega’s Kiramu area experienced widespread displacement of their inhabitants.

“Consequently, these displaced individuals sought temporary shelter within Kiramu Elementary School and Kokofe Elementary School in Gida Ayana,” he stated. “Tragically, they were compelled to evacuate once again this year, mere days before the onset of the school year.”

Lamessa underscored the profound disruption inflicted upon the lives of these residents due to their displacement. “Those affected by this distressing situation have encountered significant hardships, particularly given the challenges they faced during the abrupt relocation just preceding the commencement of the academic year.”

Getu Saketa, an officer specializing in Gender and Human Rights at Gurmuu Development Association, emphasized that individuals who have been internally displaced due to conflict encounter various challenges concerning their belongings, residences, and land.

“These challenges may vary depending on the nature and specifics of the conflict,” he remarked. “Addressing the root cause of this displacement is imperative.”

Garamu Lamessa, the communication officer for the Horro Guduru Wollega zone, reported that comprehensive assessments have been conducted to ascertain the extent of damage and the specific requirements of the internally displaced population.

“We are in the process of constructing dwellings for individuals whose homes were partially destroyed by the insurgent groups,” he elaborated. “Furthermore, in the Amuru districts and surrounding villages, we are extending aid to internally displaced individuals for the repair or reconstruction of their ravaged residences.”

Additionally, Garamu emphasized that, as the local government, the administration is currently evaluating the needs and assessing the damages incurred by internally displaced persons. “Concurrently, efforts are underway to resettle displaced individuals and establish new residences for those in need, alongside the reconstruction of demolished dwellings.”

International norms require States Parties to establish a legal framework for the equitable compensation of internally displaced individuals.”

Getu Saketa, gender and human rights expert

However, Getu stressed the necessity for the government to provide an efficacious remedy for internally displaced individuals who have incurred losses of property and homes.

“The government must enact administrative measures,” he asserts.

Getu highlights the Kampala Convention, also known as the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, ratified in Uganda in 2009, as a legally binding regional agreement designed to offer protection, assistance, and resolutions for internally displaced persons in Africa. Nonetheless, he notes that Ethiopia signed and ratified the Kampala Convention with reservations on certain articles, such as Articles 12 and 22.

According to him, Article 12 of the Kampala Convention pertains to compensation for IDPs.

“Under this article, States Parties are mandated to provide effective remedies to individuals who have been displaced,” he elaborates. “International norms require States Parties to establish a legal framework for the equitable compensation of internally displaced individuals for the losses they have endured due to their displacement.”

Despite Ethiopia’s reservations concerning this article, Getu argues that the government holds the responsibility to implement lasting solutions for internal displacement, as these individuals are citizens of the country. AS

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