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Bleaker than ever

Bleaker than ever

The recent border conflict between the Oromia and Somali Region States has dominated news headlines in Ethiopia in the past month. The conflict resulted in the tragic loss of life and properties from both sides of the ill-fated border. Although a lot of numbers are flying around on various media outlets, so far official figures recounting the damages of this bloody conflict are hard to come by. But the suffering of those who are caught in the cross fire is all too real; thousands displaced from the Somali Regional State with almost nothing but their clothes on their back are pictured above in temporary shelters prepared for them in Harari regional State. Dawit Endeshaw of The Reporter visited the shelter located in the outskirts of Harar, around Hamaresa neighborhood. 

Five months after the federal government announced a resolution to the border conflict between the Somali and Oromia regional states, the two regional administrations have found themselves, yet again, in another deadly conflict and a very tense political stalemate. That left many to be displaced and face some harsh realities, reports Dawit Endeshaw.

Contrary to the official narration of the Ethiopian government, Ethiopians, whose ethnic origin is from the Oromo ethnic group, are moving out of the Somali Regional State as well as Somaliland en masse.

It can be recalled that in a trio press conference, which was held by Lema Megressa, and Abdi Mohammed, presidents of Oromia and Somali regional states, respectively, accompanied by Kebede Chane, minister for Federal and Pastoralist Affairs, the officials promised that the displacement will be immediately stopped.

In the press conference that was held a week after the first round of the displacement of Oromos, Abdi, in particular, promised that his region will do everything to stop the mass eviction.

However, in its visit to a shelter in Harar city from September 24 to 27, 2017, The Reporter observed a number of vehicles coming from different parts of the Somali region with evictees on board. During the three days alone a freight truck and modified Isuzu midi-buses full of people arrived at the shelter.

That was not it. More were on their way. The displaced people that are flocking from the Somali region are now being sheltered at temporary sheds in Harar.

The shelter, which is located in the outskirts of Harar, around Hamaresa was originally built as a shed for industries. Now it is the temporary home for thousands of desperate Oromos, who left their dwellings in the Somali region. Two sheds inside the camp now accommodate around 3,500 displaced people in what appears to be uncomfortable living conditions. The shelter has two toilets and one clinic, but the facilities are far from meeting the growing demand.

The unprecedented eviction caused mass outrage in an organized fashion, according to a number of evictees The Reporter spoke to.

Raies Aba Mencha, a father of four, has been irritated and at times perplexed after being evicted from the Somali region. According to East Hararge Zone Health Bureau, which is now monitoring the situation along with other agencies, the number has reached 67,000. This figure includes those who have been displaced till Sunday, September 24, 2017.

According to Raies, the forced eviction began on September 8, 2017, with the forced displacement commencing on September 11, 2017.

On September 11, the Oromia Regional State accused the security force of the Somali Regional State for the imprisonment of four Oromos, two of whom were officials of Oromia, one being the head of Gursum wereda. Later these four individuals were killed while they were in prison, according to a statement from Oromia.

This altercation resulted in a mass public demonstration in Aweday town, East Hararge Zone, Oromia Regional State, 500km from Addis Ababa.

Later the demonstration turned violent and resulted in the killing of Somalis in Aweday. Following the killings, the national defense had to involve in a relocation of Somalis from Aweday to the Somali Regional State.

The sequence of events in the two regions scaled up into forced displacements of Oromos from Somalis.

“It began at the same time,” Raies recalls. Raies, 32 is among those who left Jigjiga, capital of Somali, to Harar.

Raies lived in Jigjiga since childhood and has spent most of adulthood as a businessman. When he left Jigjiga he was also forced to abandon a small hotel he owns there.

“That is the only place I know and now it is gone,” Raies said.

According to his account, the displacement was orchestrated by a group of people who he says act and execute things in a more organized fashion.

“They were going door by door asking if there is anyone who is Oromo and eventually arresting an Oromo,” he said.

“They were more aggressive on men than women,” Raies told The Reporter.

When the mass eviction started, Raies had to hide with his wife at home. It was then that his wife was threatened by a group of youths with a stick, knife and rebar to handover any valuable property.

According to a number of people who are displaced, the group was only involved in looting properties owned by Oromos. Before the displacement, this group has also allegedly committed similar crimes in Jigjiga.

However, another group which he says was involved in the beating, arresting and killings of Oromos was going door to door. The group for instance has up to 12 to 13 members.

“When this group came to my house, I was hiding in my hotel with the help of my friends who are Somalis,” he said.

It is now more than two weeks since he joined the camp in Harar. He escaped to Harar escorted by the National Defense.

Aside from the displacement, Raies told The Reporter that he has seen a number of dead bodies along his way to Harar.

It is to be recalled that week after the intensification of the conflict in Somali and Oromia regional states, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn ordered the national army to involve.

“I saw dead bodies on the streets of Jigjiga. It was very frightening,” Raies said. 

So far, no official statement has been given by federal government agencies in regards to the number of people that were killed in the Somali Regional State.

The Reporter met Raies in the morning of September 25, 2017 along with his two children’s and his two friends, who are also displaced from Somali. He was on his way to buy medicine for his two toddlers.

Given the condition in the shelter everyone was now becoming sick.

The temporary shelter has only two toilets and one clinic. Originally, the shelter was not built to serve for such purposes. Though it was built to house industries, it is now serving an unintended purpose.

When the mass eviction started, four camps were established in Harar. During the first week of the exodus, 41,000 Oromos joined these centers.

It was only after the Oromia Regional State began to send the displaced people to their extended families in different parts of Oromia region that three of the centers were closed. It was then that Raies and his friends were sent to the shelter in Hamaresa.

Sileshi Moti, 32, a friend of Raies was among those who were transferred.

Since the eviction, Sileshi was working on a construction project in Degehabur, Somali Regional State, 718km of East of Addis Ababa. On September 13, Sileshi was taken to prison along other 20 others.

It was after days of stay in prison that Sileshi found a way out. He said that it was with the help of a member of the national army, who he knows on a personal level, that he managed to escape.

He said they have relocated the remaining 20 prisoners to other detention centers.

“Now I know nothing about what happened to them,” he said.

During the first week of stay in the shelter at Hamaresa, there were tensions between the displaced people and security personnel assigned to guard the shelter.

“We understand emotions were involved,” according to senior official from Harari region whose name is withheld upon request.

The confrontation finally resulted in the killing of one individual and injuries of nine.

“If the security did not act, the situation would have been very dangerous,” according to the official.

The situation at the center as observed by The Reporter seems calm but with growing concerns.

East Hararge Zone Health Bureau, which is now working on health aspects of the situation, is already feeling the pinch of shortage of medicines, and new demands.

It is a very challenging situation, Ahmed Aleyu, deputy head of the Bureau told The Reporter.

These people came to these centers with no penny and the current situation is much unexpected, he said.

The Bureau assigned close to 15 health officials to the center in Hamaresa. The officials are working in three shifts to accommodate the demand.

“However, we are still facing shortages of medicines,” he said.

Aside from those who are inside the center, the Bureau is also responsible for monitoring the health of people who are identified as vulnerable.

Five infants, who are malnourished, are now under intensive care. In addition 29 mothers who are breastfeeding and live inside the shelter are also a major concern for the Bureau.

In addition, the Bureau is also following the health of 25 individuals who are now at Hiwot Fana Hospital.

These 25 displaced individuals have serious injuries from bullet as well as knife attacks while they were in Somali, Ahmed said.

The Bureau also follows the shelter in Chinaksen, 90km from Harar. The center is estimated to have 150 to 200 people, since last week.

Ahmed, however, is still concerned about the growing demands. The demand is still a far cry from the supply.

In regards to the eviction of Oromos from Somaliland, this week the Ethiopian government confirmed the case and said that 3,000 Oromos have been displaced from Somaliland.

However, the number is now growing.

Jelan Seid, from Arsi is among those who have been forced to leave Somaliland. The Reporter met him while he was on his way from Harar to Adama.

He owned a barbershop in Hargesa for the past one year. Before that he lived in Saudi Arabia.

According to him, the police force of Somaliland was involved in the arrest and deportation of Oromos to Ethiopia.

After he was deported from Somaliland, he went to a camp in Togochale. Then after, he found his way to Harar.

Given the situation in Somali Regional State, Jelan had to use a fake ID of Jigjiga University to pass checkpoints.

“We were asked to show IDs at Karamara; so, instead of the real one I showed them a fake ID,” he said.

“So that is how I manage to escape,” he said.

The Reporter got to see the ID.

When The Reporter met Jelan, he was waiting for a minibus to Adama. Given his current financial status, Jelan had to beg travelers to donate money so that he can cover his transport cost.

The mass exodus has significantly affected economic as well as social status of many who left their properties.

“I lived in Jigjga for the past 20 years,” an individual in his 50s said.

He used to have his own drug store, car, and a house in Jigjiga.

The displacement has also brought a negative impact on khat trade to Somali Regional State as well as Somaliland. Unconfirmed reports say, following the incident, Somaliland began to import khat from Kenya and importation from Ethiopia is temporarily suspended.

In Harar, The Reporter observed that the price of khat from Aweday, a major source of the mild narcotic to Somali Regional State, has declined. The decline of price is attributed to the excessive supply of khat in Harar.

In addition to that, currently, those who are escaping from Jigjiga are forced to pay up to 500 birr to drive to Harar. Normally, the tariff is 50 birr.

Humanitarian concerns

To mitigate the impact of the crisis, it is to be recalled that the federal government has established a steering committee, chaired by Kebede Chane. This committee will follow up and mobilize resources to help those who are displaced from the two regions. According to the Somali Region, hundreds of Somalis are also displaced from Oromia Region.

In this regard, the Ethiopian government is assessing the situation such as the number of people displaced, the demand for support, as well as the gap.

According to source from a humanitarian agency, a technical committee under Mitiku Kassa, Commissioner of National Disaster Risk Management Commission, has been in discussion with donor partners for the past two weeks.

“We are planning to launch a cash-based support mechanism,” an unnamed expert at a humanitarian agency told The Reporter.

According the same source, so far, 40,000 households from Somali Regional State and Somaliland have been displaced.

The Reporter was able to confirm that, on September 27 and 28 alone around 69 vehicles of all kinds transported around 7,000 people from Somaliland and Togochale to Harar.

“To accommodate this we have built tents,” Ahmed said.

Edris Ismael Abdi, head of Somali Regional State Communication Bureau declined to comment on the issue after repeated attempts made by The Reporter.