June 3, 2021

Dire Dawa Refugee Camp – A stalemate situation


The denizens of the Dire Dawa Refugee Camp each have heartbreaking stories to tell of thwarted hopes and ambitions.

Dire Dawa Refugee Camp – A stalemate situation

The Dire Dawa Internally Displaced People (IDP) Camp is located 165km south of Jigjiga, the capital city of Ethiopia’s Somali region. 

It is currently home to Somalis who have fled mostly from the Oromia Region, especially Mieso town, following violent ethnic clashes between Oromo and Somali in the last few years. The camp, which Addis Zeybe recently visited, currently hosts nearly 1,000 internally displaced people. 

There have been recent, increased efforts by the regional authorities and international NGOs such as UNHCR to create situations for refugees to safely return to their homes. But, according to the regional authorities, none of the returnees have left when suitable conditions could not be arranged

The denizens of the Dire Dawa Refugee Camp each have heartbreaking stories to tell of thwarted hopes and ambitions.

While residents often go to bed hungry, plagued by disease, malnutrition, poor sanitation and water shortages, millions of dollars in funding to improve the camp's infrastructure has allegedly been diverted into the personal pockets of powerful figures in the region.

The regional government says it is working together with the Federal Government to help the situation of the displaced people in the camp. A number of local NGOs and international bodies including the UNHCR and UNICEF are working to improve the wellbeing of these people.

The facilities the camp has at its disposal are poor compared to others around the country. Though genuine efforts are made to alleviate suffering, the camp has water shortages and little sanitation as a result. 

While there are enough latrines, water shortages mean they can’t do their jobs. While there is a health post to serve the camp, it does not have the medical supplies or trained staff to care for people properly. Perhaps most shockingly of all, the camp has not had any electricity since it was established in 2018.

“I suffered too much,” says Fatuma Ali, a displaced woman in the camp. She prays for a return to her former decent life, but in the present, she can only hope for small improvements at the camp because her immediate future lies there. 

The camp's inhabitants are still in limbo about returning to their former lives. They wish for an actionable solution to regain what's lost and to overcome the emotional trauma of being trapped in a squalid camp.

These people had lives, dreams and futures to look forward to before their hopes were consumed in the fire of ethnic conflict.

Abdifatah Sheikh Bixi, the Regional Disaster Prevention Bureau Head,  said that the region is working to integrate the camp’s residents with the local population in different areas. 

Hassen Farah Mahamud is an elderly man from the camp. He has been there for the past four years. Questioned about how he feels about his own situation, he said; “I have never lived like this, never.” 

Speaking through tears, he added: “I was a businessman. I had a hotel in Mieso city and they burned it. My life was good, but now all is gone.”

If humanitarian resources are managed effectively and the camp residents are empowered to have a say in the design, implementation and monitoring of new interventions, conditions could quickly improve for the betterment of everyone.

Abdifatah claims that a number of tasks are being put in place to improve the infrastructural and management problems in the camp. This would let the people begin to hope, he says.

The number of displaced people joining the camp, in the beginning, was a trickle, says Abdulahi, “but the number has not increased significantly.” 

According to Abdullahi, the region is working with Dire Dawa administrators to make the camp a better place. 

One can only hope that deeds can turn into action. The focus must be for now on the authorities, NGOs and stakeholders to put in place long-term and durable solutions.

The people of the Dire Dawa Camp have suffered terribly. Now is the moment for their lives to change for the better.