By Bileh Jelan @BilehJelan &
Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne
Addis Ababa, March 16/2021 – It never occurred to Abdi Suleiman, an ethnic Oromo who escaped his home in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia at the start of conflicts in the border areas between Somali and Oromia regional states (2017 – 2018); that the conflict that started as minor border disputes between clansmen, would escalate or see the interference of the Somali Regional Special Forces under the presidency of Abdi Illey. The conflict resulted in the death of 734, the injury of 395, the disappearance of 39 individuals and 13 women falling victim to sexual assault at the hands of police on both sides of the border. (See Ethiopian Human Rights Council report).
While a statement by the Oromia Regional State estimated IDPs numbers to be 416,807 in the year 2017, later estimates provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) put the number at 1,073,7642 by mid-2018. Abdi Suielman, his immediate and extended families, friends and neighbors were displaced as a result of the conflict and Abdi is left three years after the end of the conflict with angry sentiments such as, “I would rather die here than go back there (referring to his previous home in the Somali Regional State).” Abdi participated in the Oromia Regional State’s Government massive permanent resettlement program aimed at resettling and integrating thousands of ethnic Oromos who were forced out of the Somali regional state. Abdi, the main source of income for a family of 8, participated with the hope of establishing a new life better in its quality than the life he had back in the Somali Regional State.
The resettlement program was conducted in 11 cities in the Oromia region through a lottery operation run by the regional government, to avoid competition and conflicts of interest. Millions of birr were collected for the resettlement program through publicly opened bank accounts , fundraising activities ranging from SMS lines to civil servants donating their salaries, these activities alongside funds acquired in the form humanitarian assistance from international donors were run by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) and its Oromia Regional State Branch.
The program was a point of contention between the federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Hailemariam Delalgn and Oromia Regional State government under the leadership of President Lemma Megersa. However, the issue slowly faded out of the media and public attention shortly after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed himself, an ethnic Oromo took office. Addis Standard visited some of the makeshift camps across Oromia Regional State located in Adama, Bishan Guracha and Burayu and talked to some members of the IDPs communities who like Abdi came in the hope of starting new dignified lives.
The communities still live in village-like set-ups, made up of condos often built out of iron sheets, exposing its occupants to weather challenges. These villages are isolated from the towns and cities the IDPs were promised to be settled in. The villages lack among others proper sanitation, running water, electricity, health care and education coverage.
The communities still live in village-like set-ups, made up of condos often built out of iron sheets, exposing its occupants to weather challenges. These villages are isolated from the towns and cities the IDPs were promised to be settled in. The villages lack among others proper sanitation, running water, electricity, health care and education coverage. In addition, up until 8 to 10 months ago, the regional government provided food rations according to the residents. The IDPs communities now find themselves in a difficult situation where they are denied aid and the opportunity to earn a living or make one.
From the testimonies, the Addis Standard team gathered, for the past three/four years these IDP communities have been deprived of the basic means of reintegration recognized and set by the UNHCR as pre-conditions to durable solution to the IDPs problem. These solutions include physical safety, security access, basic public services, means of survival, income generation Economic, social and cultural integration Property restitution or compensation Redress for abuses.
Employment: an unanswered demand leaving many families vulnerable
“I woke up early in the morning, worked all day and all I earned was 40 ETB. Now can you tell me what I should do with 40 ETB and I am at the top of a household that has 12 individuals in it, mostly children,” said Abdi Suielman who spoke to Addis Standard after coming back from fieldwork in a nearby farm. Abdi insists that the lives of many of the IDPs said to be resettled in these camps is far from settled. “It feels like we’re still on the road,” said Ahmed Sani Negasso, a 32 years resident of the camp at Bishan Guracha, a town just outside Shashamane, West Arsi Zone. Ahmed used to be a cattle trader. He was rendered jobless having to depend on his relatives to feed his children. “We’re left in darkness here. The lake and hills and a private owned farmland surround us. What are we supposed to do here?” he asks, further explaining his wish for a chance to “cultivate a piece of land”.
“We’re left in darkness here. The lake and hills and a private owned farmland surround us. What are we supposed to do here?”
The camp in Bishan Guracha is located on a vast field where clusters of suburban houses have started sprouting; the camp is on a walking distance (6 KM) from Lake Awassa. Farhan Kedir 27 is also a resident of the camp told Addis Standard, “The youth used to work there (The suburban neighborhoods of Bishan Gurcha and Hawassa) as daily laborers until development of these neighborhoods stopped. At the same time, we were told by the city administration cultivating or rearing livestock is prohibited because the area is a part of land allocated to the development of the city (Bishan Guracha).” Nadiya Baker finds a problem with the regional government giving them compensation in the form of livestock (through partner NGOs), that exposed to disease and death instead of allowing them to cultivate the fertile land the camp sets on asserting, “We are children of farmers after all.”
In Adama, the story is no different where Kedir Mohammed, Andulsalam Ibrahim, Jaylaan Qassim and Abdulrahman Kedir all fathers complain of unemployment being the biggest issue for them and their families. Kedir Mohammed, a father of 2 who has been in the camp located in Adama’s Bole Sub-city, Ganda Hara area for 3 years told Addis Standard, “As long as we don’t have work and we are not able to work, the youth that you see around the camp will turn to thieves. We are not thieves but they (Regional Government) want to turn us into ones.”
Jaylann Qassim, a community appointed leader to speak to the city administration on behalf of the IDPs in that specific camp said, “Work is almost non-existent and when there is work as daily labourers come around, the youth fight over that work. I am in negotiation with the Bole Sub-city administration to find an understanding where we are allowed to enter the market and trade as trade is our craft. All we need is for them to allow us to work, nothing more and nothing less.”
Burayu’s IDP community suffered from unemployment which led many able bodied youth to leave the designated camps back to Oromia-Somali regional states border area to find work. Sh. Abdullahi, a 64-year-old community leader and 3 years resident of the one of the IDP camps that located in Burayu town told Addis Standard, “There are only children and elderly here. Many of the youth either entered the city (Addis Ababa) or went back to Somali Regional State to find work.” he added, “Life becomes unbearable when you are treated like a beggar when all you want to do is work.”
Geremew Oleka, Deputy commissioner of Oromia disaster risk management commission
“The money is distributed in the form of interest free loans to business groups consisting of families and/or friends over 18. ”
The deputy commissioner of Oromia Disaster Risk Management Commission Geremew Oleka told Addis Standard that the commission has distributed about 280 million ETB through the Oromia Credit Bureau. “The money is distributed in the form of interest free loans to business groups consisting of families and/or friends over 18,” he said. However, Maftuha Kemal, a mother of two said that the market they were allocated to trade in was too remote from passing trade to develop profitable businesses explaining the business offer she had gotten from the city administration “It was a dead-end canteen that eventually went bankrupt.”
Mohammed Abdi owns a small shop that serves the IDP camp in Ganda Hara, Adama explained to Addis Standard that cash was given to those who wanted cash; livestock was given to those who demanded it as well. The problem is not with getting cash, the problem is with keeping it. He further explains, “Let’s say I took the cash and opened a small shop like I did or took the livestock, the question now is how am I going to survive with this capital that I have, did they (regional government) provide us with an environment that allows us to herd livestock or succeed with our businesses? No they did not.” Mohammed explained in a firm tone, “The market in this city (Adama) is not willing to accept us and we don’t have our own space to trade and make the community around us trade with us. We are outside our comfort zones and we are not finding comfort here and by comfort I mean, the environment to succeed.”
Basic Needs (Food, Water, Electricity), cut off with no explanation
From the moment, these makeshift camps were established and IDPs were resettled there on the promise of finding durable solutions upto 10 months ago, the IDPs used to receive monthly food rations from the National Disaster Risk Management Commission, these food rations have been stopped. “They dropped us here and they forgot about us,” said Ahmed Sami Negaso, a 32 years old father of 5. He spoke of the dire conditions him and his family are in after the discontinuation of the monthly food rations. People have started leaving the camp in Bishan Guracha in search of food. Similarly, Sheik Abdallah told Addis Standard the same living conditions forcing many to leave the camp and even move back to the region they have been forced to leave due to worsening conditions.
“They have the right to work and earn a living. Emergency aid normally does not go beyond 6 months. We provided it for over two years,” said the deputy commissioner of Oromia’s Disaster Risk management. However, the spokesperson for the federal National Disaster Risk Management Commission has told Addis Standard that the commission has no knowledge of the discontinuation of the monthly food rations. A study conducted on the IDPs in Adama by Oxford University’s Refugees Studies Center indicated that the food rations are not large enough for their families and that the arrival of food rations is sometimes delayed for 1-3 months. The IDPS often sell some of their donated rations to buy spices and vegetables from the local market.
In Bishan Guracha Abdi Suleiman said, “We spend all day under the sun and all night in darkness.” The houses are single rooms constructed from iron sheets with floors made out of cement exposing them to extreme heat during the day and extreme cold during the night. The camps do not have running water. There are installments of tap and water reservoirs but none of them provides water.
The residents of the camp at Bishan Guracha on the other hand, attempted to extract water by digging wells but were soon prevented from further use by health professionals who visited the camp occasionally citing “the possibility of contracting water borne disease”.
At Bishan Guracha, drinking water and water for sanitation and cooking is bought for 5 ETB a litre from kilometers away in Bishan Guracha market. Water Shortage is the immediate problem faced by all IDP communities Addis Standard visited in Adama, Bishan Guracha and Burayu. “God only knows how we are surviving during this pandemic,” said Sheik Abdallah when he was speaking of the discontinuation of water and electricity on top of monthly food rations.
The residents of the camp at Bishan Guracha on the other hand, attempted to extract water by digging wells but were soon prevented from further use by health professionals who visited the camp occasionally citing “the possibility of contracting water borne disease” as a reason according to Farhan Kedir.
In Adama, alongside the absence of water, the city’s electric corporation according to the residents took the electric power generator installed for the camp. Almost all IDPs camps Addis Standard visited lacked proper access to water and one has to buy or walk long distances to get water, Jaylaan Qassim said, “After a long fight with the Adama Bole Sub-city administration we were able to get a water tank here, That water tank used to be filled regularly now it stands there only. It has been empty for six months now.”
They expect us to stay Covid-19 free when water is barely available.” When asked if power is available he said, “We had a separate generator from the rest of the area, it was enough to keep the camp running but they came one night and said the generator needed fixing and took it away. We live in the dark now. It has been the case for more than 8 months now.”
Residents of Ganda Hara Camp
“The city’s electric corporation took the electric power generator installed for the camp.”
Acceptance by native communities, integration problems in Adama
IDPs in all the camps Addis Standard team have visited are provided with ID cards recognizing them as being part of the social fabric of the city they were settled in and granting them access to services provided by these cities administrations to city residents. The IDP communities in Bishan Guracha and Burayu have smoothly integrated with communities surrounding their respective camps. Community acceptance did not stop the occurrence of minor violent incidents; it also did not stop the denial of access to land and resources by the cities’ and towns’ administrations in these respective camps.
In Adama, the IDP communities have experiences different from that of Bishan Guracha and Burayu; the discrimination they face by the city admintration is couopled with the extreme hostility by surrounding communities and city residents. Majority of whom consider them as ‘Muslim Invaders’ according to Ramadan Jamal.
Maftuha recalled an incident where a mob stole all her valuables (cash and gold) and set her house on fire.
Adama city accommodated more IDPs than any other city in Oromia. However, unlike the residents of other camps, these ones faced a rather difficult process of integrating with the community that surrounds them. Maftuha spoke about recurrent attacks on the camp by residents of the city causing loss of lives and property destruction. The attacks are carried out by mobs who according to the residents that consistently tell them to “Go back to where they came from”. They robbed homes and attacked the mosque. Maftuha recalled an incident where a mob stole all her valuables (cash and gold) and set her house on fire. The attack was in 2018 but kept recurring whenever a riot broke out in the city.
The IDP communities in Adama were accused of destroying churches like “they burned the ones in Somali region”. Maftuha says they even face discrimination in healthcare institutions, where access to free health care services granted by the regional governemnt is denied. She thinks the hostility the community faced has made it difficult to try out business ventures “There is widespread hostility towards our community all around the city.”
Ramadan Jamal who is also a resident of the camp at Adama’s Bole Sub-city Ganda Hara area told Addis Standard, “You see that church over there; it was only built after we came. Honestly, this city was so hostile to us, they attacked us when they tried to arrest Jawar Mohammed and they (Youth residing in the city) burned down houses and tried to loot the mosque. They attacked us again after Hachalu Hundessa’s assassination this time we fended them off. They accuse us of religious extremism but attacking people for their nationality and religion is double the extremism they accuse us of.”
The IDP community at Adama through its appointed leaders sent a complaint letter detailing incidents of discrimnatjon they faced in governmental and non-governmental institutions to both the respective Sub-city administration the camp is located in and the city’s administration but the complaint received “No answer.” according to Jaylaan Qassim, the community appointed leader.
“This city was so hostile to us, they attacked us when they tried to arrest Jawar Mohammed and they (Youth residing in the city) burned down houses and tried to loot the mosque. They attacked us again after Hachalu Hundessa’s assassination.”
Schooling not up to national standards
Amid these difficulties, there are people who took on the responsibility of filling the gaps where the government could not. Ustaaz Jaafar Mohammed Ali is an Imam of the Ganda Hara IDP camp Mosque and a religious teacher, who is a native of Dire Dawa, came to the camp at the request of the community to provide alternative schooling for the children in the Adama camp.
He is a father of eight children enduring the same living conditions with the community but gladly helping the community with what he can. “I came at the request of this specific IDP community who sent and asked for me by name.” he said cheerfully, “I teach children in the afterschool hours, the holy Quran, Islamic History and Afan Oromo writing. I do this in the hope that these children, who are in terrible and dire situations, will one day become something that serves their country and nation.” When asked if he gets payment for his work as both an Imam and a religious teacher he said, “I do this for the sake of Allah, as you know in his holy book he tells us to do well and expect nothing in return.” The imam explained that his living expenses are covered by Dire Dawa’s branch of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council.
The camp where Ustaz Jaafar teaches does not have a school. Most parents sent their young children to religious schools within the camp. Regular schools differ from religious schools also known as “Madrasas or Katatib” where Public and Private schools provide curriculum that covers a range of subjects in both the natural and social sciences fields, whereas religious schools usually provide children with a curriculum that focuses on language and religious teaching and history.
Jaylan Qassim, community leader in Adama’s camp
“After long negotiations uniforms and stationery will be provided by the government and the children in this camp have started schooling in nearby schools.”
Maftouha Kemal, Kedir Mohammed, Abdulsalam Ibrahim and Ibrahim Mohammed preferred religious schools for fear of their children being harassed on the long walk to schools nearby. Jaylaan Qassim, the community leader at Ganda Hara camp said that, “After long negotiations uniforms and stationery will be provided by the government and the children in this camp have started schooling in nearby schools.”
In the Bishan Guracha camp, some children attend the nearby school in town. However, Nadiya Bakar, a resident of the camp who used to be a trader in the border area between Ethiopia and Djibouti before being resettled in the camp told Addis Standard that, “I sent my children to Dire Dawa to my relatives so they continue their school because the school in the camp is only up to 4th grade.” Ahmed Sani is no different, “I sent some of my 5 children to relatives so they finish their school because I didn’t want them to walk a long distance to attend school.””
However in Burayu Sh. Abdullahi said, “The schools are located nearby and it is accessible but as I told you the economic situation forced many of these able bodied youth to leave school and search for work. Many still study and focus on that part of their lives. “
In the absence of proper health centers, community members with a medical background step in dimensional
Mohammed Jemal is a nurse who studied nursing in Jigjiga University. The community call him “Doctor” and go to him for medical treatment. He brings materials from the nearby health centers and hospitals and goes around providing treatment for minor injuries for free. When asked why he doesn’t have a paying job at one of the health centers in Adama, he said, “I wasn’t able to recover my license from Jigjiga after the conflict.” Consequently, he hasn’t been able to get a job in Adama.
“The free service waiver for IDPs has been revoked which has made it harder for the community to get medical services, especially having no means of earning money. “
According to Mohammed, “The residents can access medical care from the hospitals and health centers in the city. The free service waiver for IDPs has been revoked which has made it harder for the community to get medical services, especially having no means of earning money.” While noting that,”The community can access healthcare services such as family planning and reproductive health.” He explained to Addis Standard that due to malfunctioning sewage systems and lack of water, the community suffers communicable diseases such as food borne and waterborne disease and skin conditions. In addition to that, there is a low coverage of vaccination, frequent occurrence of miscarriage and malnutrition in children. He mentioned that there are also people with disabilities and people suffering mental health challenges, adding that some of their conditions were a result of violence and forced displacement.
Speaking on how his community is handling the Covid-19 outbreak, he said, “There hasn’t been any dispensation of masks or detergents amid the pandemic to this community.” Jaylaan Qassim explained how the community was stripped of their free access to health services, “We used to get free health care services but out of the sudden, they (City Administration’s Health Bureau) started stopping free health services to us. When we asked, they told us it is a technical error and soon will be fixed. It has been 6 months since we stopped having access to free health services.” Community leaders have been working on resolving the issue ever since.
While the community in Bishan Guracha have no access to proper health coverage despite the existence of a health center (the center is not operational), the community in Burayu still have access to health services. Sh. Abdullahi on this matter said, “We only complain about the shortcomings but hand to Allah, when it comes to health services, we are still receiving free health services. We have access to Medicine and the health bureau has been nothing but helpful.”
What do all these communities want and what do they expect from the future?
The residents of the IDP camps we spoke to are people who are catapulted out of their former self-sufficient lives. They explained how they are finding it hard to resume their lives in a new environment at times, hostile and unwelcoming. Returning to Somali Regional State is for most “unthinkable” and many are said to be leaving the camps to find better opportunities elsewhere in Oromia according to both Ferhan Kedir and Sh Abdullahi.
The issue of this IDP community that was once commercialized for business and political gains has now progressively faded out of the public’s attention. Stakeholders that were involved in the resettlement and reintegration process have failed to see the process through. A committee set up to look over the fundraising that consists of religious leaders and Abba Gada has now dissolved according to Abba Gadaa Senbeto, the former Tulama Abba Gada.
Despite the challenges, the community is relentlessly fighting for survival. Many have lost all of their assets during the conflicts and have nothing to go back to. The youth wander in search of jobs as daily laborers often without success. In Adama for instance, young people feel desperate. Kedir Mohammed explains, “They (city administration and city residents) don’t allow us to work for them. I don’t know how they expect us to eat, unless they want us to steal.”
“We don’t want to sit and be a charity case. We just want to be given the opportunity to strive.
Maftouha Kemal and Nadiya Baker said that they attempted to rear chicken and goats. Nadiya spoke of her attempt to rear goats that she was forced to sell to buy food. Maftuha also spoke of her failed attempt to rear chicken. “We don’t want to sit and be a charity case. We just want to be given the opportunity to strive.” Abdi Sulieman of Bishan Guracha similarly said, “I have no hope from this government as I feel they have done nothing especially knowing about the amount of money that was raised. My hope is only in Allah.” a sentiment shared by many in these camps Addis Standard Team Visited.
“For the efforts the regional government is undertaking to work, we need to have honesty between community leaders, we need to work on win-win solutions so their promises are not broken and our dignity is not toyed with, “said Jaylaan Qassim, the community appointed leader at Adama’s Ganda Hara camp.
The regional and federal governments on the issue have given little to no information. Addis Standard contacted the office of the spokesperson for the NDRMC which in turn declined to offer any information citing, “This is the regional branch responsibility,” as a reason and directing our questions to the office of the deputy commissioner of the regional branch. However, when Addis Standard called the deputy commissioner of Oromia’s Disaster Risk Management to ask questions regarding the testimonies the IDPs communities gave, his answer was, “What is your agenda behind asking such questions?” AS