Thousands of Somalians Seek Refuge in Ethiopia to Avoid Climate Change

Somalians are fleeing to Ethiopia to avoid drought, hunger and extremist group, al-Shabaab.

More than 5,000 Somalis – four times more than in 2018 – have sought refuge in the East African nation this year alone.

Refugee, Barwako Abdi, said: “I left because of my children. I want my children to succeed and have a bright future. Living on the farm when there is drought is always difficult. I have raised my children in hardship. I can’t let them be taken away by the fighters.”

Somali has “one of the world’s most protracted displacement situations” with over 2 million Somalis displaced in the surrounding region in the past two decades. Climate change has deeply affected Somali, resulting in extensive drought in the region. Families, facing the country’s worst drought since the 2011 famine, are also forced to pay illegal taxes to al-Shabaab soldiers, exacerbating an already precarious situation.

“There was a time when we would cultivate the farms. The river would rise, and it would flow, and we survived. We planted maize, tomatoes, sesame and other things along the river. Now the river is dry and there is no more rain. What’s worse is that al-Shabaab forced us to give them the little we had,” another Somali refugee, Shalle Hassan Abdirahman, said

Shalle arrived at The UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) Dollo Ado Reception Centre in Eastern Ethiopia after a three-day journey from Somalia’s Lower Juba region.

The 53-year old farmer grew and sold tobacco until al-Shabaab banned it. Despite facing a loss of income, he was forced to pay al-Shabaab an exorbitant tax of $1,500 which he could not afford. Many families who can not afford this tax are forced to hand over their children for military training.

“My children are growing and are also at risk of being taken away as fighters. That’s why I came here, so they can go to school, so their future can be better,” Barwako continued.

“In today’s changing climate, mass displacement triggered by extreme weather events is becoming the norm,” the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) said in a report published this month. In the first half of 2019, 10.8 million people were displaced globally: 7 million by disasters and 3.8 million by conflict and violence.

“New arrivals never stopped coming to Ethiopia, so every year we have some more coming and reporting the same challenges when it comes to drought, insecurity, shortage of food and water,” said Muhammad Harfoush, Protection Officer, at UNHCR’s Melkadida sub-office.

The UNHCR announced that there is a shortage of available shelters to accommodate Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia.

“Daily arrivals are accommodated at the reception centre, then transferred to the camp depending on the availability of shelters, so that is a key challenge we have. We are trying to address it,” Harfoush promised.

At the Dollo Ado reception centre, refugees like Shalle are awaiting registration and relocation to one of Melkadida’s five refugee camps. They are overcrowded, camped out on beds pushed against the outer walls of the centre.

“I have been sleeping well since I arrived,” Shalle said of the reception centre.

Other refugees, like Barwako, are temporarily sheltered in Bur Amino Refugee Camp in South-East Ethiopia, in the grounds of a school run by one of UNHCR’s partners, World Vision.

Experts have warned that global displacement is becoming the “norm” as climate change “hazards” worsen in the future.

“With the impact of climate change, in the future these types of hazards are expected to become more intense,” the director of the International Displacement Monitoring Center, Alexandra Bilak, said.