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Ethiopia: Refugees escape Somalia for border town of Dollo

26 Nov 2016

The continuing drought and endless fighting has made life unbearable for many Somalis in their country. The Ethiopian border town of Dollo Ado offers safety, food and the health care that is so often denied to them at home. Médecins Sans Frontières operates a vital clinic for both those escaping the chaos and the local community.

Mohamed Shiniyey Mussa along with his wife and 10 children, he has just completed the difficult journey from their village of Kormay in Somalia and is now sitting in the refugee reception centre in Dollo. This is the primary point of entry for Somali refugees fleeing the drought and civil war back home. “We were forced to make this journey,” explains Mohamed. “There hasn’t been much rain in our region in recent years and we can only grow a little food on our farm. It’s just not enough for the whole family. Things are made worse by the armed men of al-Shabab who often come to our homesteads and steal our food and money.” The militant group al-Shabaab, which has been fighting the government for the last decade, partially controls the three drought-stricken regions, Gedol, Bakol and Bay in the east of the country. The fighting has stopped food aid entering the region making fear and starvation weapons of war. “Many have seen their relatives killed for collaborating with ‘government forces’. This can be for something as small as offering water to some soldiers or trying to stop the theft of some of their crops,” recounts Mohamed. “Those who go in search of food in neighbouring regions are forced back at gunpoint and told to wait.”

For those who reach the border town of Dollo, it is a last hope. Security, medical care and food can all be found here, all of which are in short supply in Somalia. For those who can’t afford the two-day drive costing over 2,000 Ethiopian Bihr (US$50), the only other option is to walk. The five refugee camps outside Dollo Ado have become a sanctuary for Somalis fleeing the violence in their homeland. The importance of Dollo is evident when one sees that there are few health facilities within a 150km on the Somali side of the border. In addition to the new arrivals in the reception centre, over the last 10 years up to 240,000 refugees have settled in one of the five camps in Dollo and receive care.

Médecins Sans Frontières has two health posts in the camps and runs a vital service in a health centre in Dollo town. Some of those travelling from across the border arrive tired, demoralised and depressed. Kadar Muktar Moali, Médecins Sans Frontières’ mental health officer, explains: “We take special care of the children as they can be suffering from severe anxiety, not only caused by the experience back at home but also by the arrival in this new environment.” We are also active in the refugee reception centre where the condition of new arrivals is assessed. According to Chris Eweillar, Médecins Sans Frontières’ operations manager in Dollo, “while many of the refugees will remain permanently in the camp, many others will travel back across the border when the drought and security situation calm down. Very often, women come across with their children to the other side of the border while their husbands stay and look after their homesteads. When things improve, word will be sent to the camp that the family should return.”

Médecins Sans Frontières and many refugees are concerned about the future.  With the threat of closure of Dadaab, the refugee camp located in Kenya which has hosted Somalis for decades, Dollo may prove to be the only alternative asylum. There is also a fear that this year’s elections in Somalia will stir up more violence as al-Shabab-have promised to stop them by any means.