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In depth analysis: Three years of broken promises, anger compound Oromo IDPS displaced after violence ravaged Oromia-Somali regions.

Adama’s Ganda Hara camp from a distance, located in Bole sub-city and on the road to Addis Abeba

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.

Scenes from Adama’s camp

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?”

Ahmed Sani

Scenes from Bishan Guracha’s camp

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.”  

“The money is distributed in the form of interest free loans to business groups consisting of families and/or friends over 18. ”

Geremew Oleka, Deputy commissioner of Oromia disaster risk management commission

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.

A water station at Bishan Guracha’s Camp

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.”

A water station at Adama’s Camp

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.”

“The city’s electric corporation took the electric power generator installed for the camp.”

Residents of Ganda Hara 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.”

Ramadan Jamal

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.

The mosque in Adama’s camp rebuilt after the recent violence

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.

“After long negotiations uniforms and stationery will be provided by the government and the children in this camp have started schooling in nearby schools.”

Jaylan Qassim, community leader in Adama’s camp

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.

Nurse Mohammed Jemal

“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. “

Mohammed Jamal

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.

Abdi Suleiman

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



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