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Refugee situations in Ethiopia

Refugee situations in Ethiopia

Refugee influxes in Ethiopia are primarily results of ongoing political and civil unrest as well as recurring natural disasters in neighbouring countries. Ethiopia hosts a large population of refugees from many African countries including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Liberia, Djibouti, Uganda, South Africa, and Yemen. However, refugees from Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea make up the majority. Currently there are a total of nine refugee camps located in the east, west, and northern parts of the country. Urban refugees are also found in major towns, especially Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. Information on the status of urban refugees is not readily available as most depend on remittances and are not registered as refugees with concerned organizations. Those who do register with UNHCR are encouraged to join refugee camps and benefit from general assistance packages provided there. Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) is the only organization in Addis Ababa that provides assistance including language courses, library facilities, day-care services, and computer literacy programs to build urban refugees’ self-confidence and promote self-reliance.

The main objectives of refugee operations in Ethiopia are:

Protection and provision of care and maintenance assistance

Promotion of voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees

Recovery programs including school feeding and environment-focused food-for-work programs ( Joint Food Assessment Mission 2001 ).

UNHCR is the main office in charge of coordination of assistance in the various camps. The Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), an institution established by the Ethiopian government and part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, is the main implementing partner of UNHCR. ARRA is in charge of food distribution, security issues in the camps, and other programs on health, education, etc.

Through its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation Project number 6180 (operational since 1 April 2000), WFP provides general food rations to refugees. Supplementary and blanket-feeding programs are also provided on a needs basis, as determined through nutritional surveillance. In cases where most children below the age of five range between 70–80 per cent weight for height, or even in worst cases where they fall below 70 per cent, they are provided with supplemental feeding or admitted to the wet- or therapeutic-feeding program.

Blanket-feeding programs (which include take-home rations) are mainly operational in centres such as Sherkole and Bonga where under-nutrition is highly evident among the majority of children under five. WFP also undertakes a school feeding program in the Sudanese camps, providing FAMIX (a porridge-like, high protein food that provides essential nutrition for children and young mothers) at break times. It is reported that with the introduction of this program, attendance has reached near-perfect with many dropouts returning to class ( Joint Food Assessment Mission 2001 ). Besides the regular food distribution program, WFP also provides a one-time food package prior to repatriation. This is mainly true in the case of the Somali refugee camps.

As the Somali camps are located in semi-arid areas, the added pressure on the already fragile ecosystem has resulted in extensive degradation of surrounding natural resources. WFP, in collaboration with local governments, implements Food for Work programs in the Somali camps that focus on natural resource management such as tree planting; measures to control erosion, introducing energy-saving stoves; etc. The program also involves local communities to ensure continuity and sustainability of efforts made.

Somali refugee camps (eastern camps)

Somali refugees began arriving in Ethiopia following the Ogaden war of 1977–8 and again after the fall of the Siyad Barre government in Somalia in 1991 ( Joint Food Assessment Mission 2001 ). The refugees mainly settled amongst their clan members in Ethiopia–Somali land since clan territories span the border between Ethiopia and Somalia.

Since 1997, the eastern programs have mainly focused on repatriation. So far six Somali refugee camps – Hartishiek B, Teferi Ber, Darwonaji, Daror, Rabasso, and Camaboker have been closed with the successful repatriation of 222,033 people ( UNHCR and WFP Collaboration Bulletin 2003 ). Currently, only three camps remain operational, namely Hartishek, Kebrebeyah, and Aisha.

As part of a repatriation package, refugees receive a one-time food package of 150 kg of wheat, 10 kg of pulses, and 5 l of oil per person.

Remittance plays a major role in the lives of refugees in these camps. Prior to the ban of livestock imports from Horn of Africa countries imposed in 1997 by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, the sale of livestock had served as a reliable source of income. However, with the continued ban, and devaluation of Somali and Somaliland shillings, remittance has taken the lead in contributing to refugees’ income.

It is believed that there are Ethiopians in these refugee centers. Many Ethiopian ethnic Somalis move into the camp due to recurrent drought and insecurity. This is especially true for Ethiopian–Somali returnees who were repatriated between 1991–3. Due to very limited economic opportunities in the area, the returnees usually join the camps to get access to food and other assistance ( Ambroso 2002 ).

Sudanese refugee camps (western camps)

Most of the Sudanese refugees arrived in Ethiopia in the early 1980s. New arrivals continue to flow into the country due to continued conflict in their country. The refugee population in Ethiopia reached its peak of more than 300,000 in 1991. The number has now reduced substantially, and currently stands at 90,806 (WFP Monthly Food Requirements March 2004). Pugnido is the largest camp, hosting about 35 per cent of current Sudanese refugees (see Table 3). In 2002, ethnic clashes within the camps resulted in the death and displacement of many refugees. Clashes between the Anuak and Nuer tribes as well as other clashes between the northern and southern Sudanese have become common in the Pugnido, Bonga, and Sherkole camps (see Conflict-induced displacement for additional insight on causes and extent of the conflict).

Table 3: Summary of refugee state of affairs in the country
Geographic location of camps Refugee camps (Number of refugees)

Number of refugees changes very often. The number presented in the table is based on WFP’s monthly food distribution requirements prepared on 3 March 2004.

Western camps

There are currently security concerns in the Pugnido and Dimma camps (see Conflict-induced displacement ).

(Sudanese refugees)

- Bonga (17,939)

- Pugnido (31,589)

- Sherkole (18,887)

- Yarenja (4,347)

- Dimma (18,644)

- Mainly conflict-induced but also economic reasons

- Numbers of refugees in these sites (with the exception of Pugnido) are expected to increase due to continued unrest in Sudan

- Third-country resettlement as well as access to resources encouraged

Eastern camps (Somali refugees)

- Hartisheik (2,325)

- Kebrebeyah (11,629)

- Aisha (13,978)

- Remittance is a major source of income for refugees in these camps
Northern camps (Eritrean/Kunama refugees) Walia Nhibi (Temporary site) (6,765)

- Near the contested areas of Shiraro/Bademe, numbers expected to increase due to forced conscription, discrimination, or to join family members () Joint Food Assessment Mission 2001

- Donors are exploring possibilities with the Ethiopian government to allow refugees access to more resources such as land to ensure long-term security WFP Monthly Food Requirements, March 2004

Agriculture, petty trading, and remittance play a major role in making up the livelihood of refugees in these camps. Although selected refugees have benefited from the seeds and farming tools distributed by UNHCR and ARRA, lack of arable land has limited refugees’ opportunities to become self-reliant.

Eritrean refugee camp (northern camp)

There are over 6,700 Eritrean refuges in the northern camp. These refugees consist of ethnic Kunamas who fled the country in May 2000 and an increasing number who continue to flow to Ethiopia following the Ethio-Eritrean war in 1998.

With very limited access to land and livestock, refugees have been forced to survive on meagre resources. Land is especially a problem in this area as the camp is located near the town of Shiraro, which is very close to the border with Eritrea. As is the case with other camps, refugees receive food and other assistance through WFP, ARRA and UNHCR.

Ethiopian refugees

According to the World Refugee Survey, produced by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), more than 20,000 Ethiopians were refugees or asylum-seekers at the end of 2002. These included more than 10,000 in Kenya, some 2,000 in Djibouti, more than 1,000 in Yemen, and an estimated 6,000 in Europe and the USA. It is also reported that approximately 10,000 Ethiopians lived in refugee-like circumstances in Sudan. The majority of refuges left the country during the Derg regime. Upon the establishment of the new government in 1991, more than 800,000 Ethiopian refugees were repatriated from Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, and other countries. During 2001 alone, more than 10,000 pre-1999 Ethiopian refugees were repatriated from Sudan to the north-western part of the country.

US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey: 2003 Country Report -
Last updated Aug 17, 2011