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Renson Mwakandana

The UN and Ethiopian refugee organizations said on Tuesday that over 100,000 people had sought safety in a remote part of Ethiopia in the past month after escaping hostilities in Somaliland, the country of Somalia’s self-declared separate region.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 98,000 people have arrived in three woredas (districts) bordering Somaliland since February 6, citing sources in the Doolo administrative zone, which is a part of Ethiopia’s Somali region and is situated at the country’s southernmost point, more than 1,300 km off the bad road from Addis Ababa.

Refugees queuing in one of the districts neighboring Somaliland /Vatican News/

Tesfahun Gobezay, director general of the Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS), an Ethiopian government body, stated during a press conference in Addis Ababa that, “We will corroborate these figures” with the registration that has started.

Tesfahun Gobezay, director general of the Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) /FBC/

He said that the migrants were “mainly women and children” and that “29,000 refugees have already been registered and the number is increasing according to the most recent data that was made public on Monday.

If their number is confirmed, their presence will increase the population of the three woredas in question by 40%, or around 236,000 people, who are already suffering greatly from the drought that is afflicting the Horn of Africa as a whole.

Tesfahun said that “It is an area lacking infrastructure and with little socio-economic development, which has been struggling with a drought for four years.” The locals, stricken by the drought and other difficulties, were the first to assist the refugees even before we arrived, hosting them in their houses and sharing their little food supplies according to him.

Housing, food, water, medical aid: the requirements are vast and “quite urgent”, stressed Mr. Dian Balde, believing “very important that our support does not only take into account the refugees, but also their hosts”.

Mamadou Dian Balde, Deputy Director, Division of Resilience and Solutions, UNHCR /Flickr/

So that people may return home, the refugees are also requesting that the current issue (in Somaliland) be resolved. According to the UNHCR, Ethiopia, which has a population of around 120 million, was already housing more than 880,000 refugees before the arrival of the Somaliland refugees, the majority of whom were fleeing South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Somaliland, a former British colony, unilaterally declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 as the nation was descended into instability from which it has yet to escape. Although having its own institutions, Somaliland’s independence has never been acknowledged by the international world.

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