The Caledonian Mercury
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Ethiopian correspondent for the International Network of Street Papers.
We are Somalis and we want to return to our homeland. Allah, please
help us!“ are the words of the song Farah Ibrahim sings. The group of 30
boys sitting in the dust before him chant to the words of the seven
year old despite the fact they have all fled their homeland in fear of
death at the hands of the Islamic Al-Shabaab militia or death by famine.
Together with 150,000 other Somalisthey have found shelter in the
Ethiopian refugee camp Dollo Ado. Life is hard in the dusty tent city
where temperatures often exceed 45 degrees Celsius but at least you can
“In Somalia, I had my own goats. But they all died. Here, in the camp
no one has goats”, says shepherd boy Farah later. While he sings
soulfully with his friends of his homeland, 100 metres or so across the
away, Hamdi wolfs down porridge from a plastic cup. The United Nations´
World Food Programm (WFP) ensures that children here in the emergency
school get at least one nourishing meal a day. Hamdi swallows the grey
slime as if making up for what she missed during a 20 day journey from
Somalia to Dollo Ado. Day and night she walked with her parents and
eight siblings, the child sometimes passing out from hunger. They only
ate when the people in destroyed villages and towns they passed shared
what they had with the refugees. But most people they met did not have
anything and joined the trek themselves.
Hamdi likes the tasteless porridge and she doesn’t want to join in
with Farahs´ Somalia song. She never wants to return to her
home country. Not even with Allah´s help. “Al Shabaab men cut Sawdo´s
neck”, whispers Hamdi. When the murderers attacked her parents house in
Rabdore, Hamdi ran away. Her sister, one year older, was not fast
enough. Hamdi is awoken by her screams now nearly every night. If you
ask Hamdi why the Al Shabaab-men slaughtered a seven year old kid while
her parents were forced to watch, she whispers: “Because they are evil.”
Her teacher does not know a better answer.
Hamdi is just one of thousands of traumatised children who have found
shelter in the five camps of Dollo Ado. They have seen their relatives,
friends and animals dying, they have suffered hunger and thirst and
most are haunted by their memories. Faduma tries to offer them at least
some kind of childhood. The volunteer teacher sings, dances and plays
with them. “Usually, you don´t need to teach children how to play. They
do it naturally. But these kids simply saw too much. Often, they don´t
even trust their own peers,” says Faduma, who lost several cousins
herself during the 20 years of civil war that afflicted Somalia.
Last summer, during the peak of the worst drought in the Horn of
Africa for 60 years, 2000 starving people arrived in Dollo Ado every
day. According to the United Nations, the camp had the highest mortality
rate in the world. Since then, it has rained in Somalia and now far
less people arrive. On the graveyards of Dollo Ados only a few fresh
heaps testify to the fact that the hardship of the refugees sometimes
still takes its toll in the camp, though nearly every other kid is still
Mohammed is one of them. Flies crawl in to the open mouth of the
three year old, his legs shiver while he sleeps on the bosom of
his sister Fardowsa. The nine year old carried her little brother to an
emergency health post. “I heard, they have special food here, that makes
weak children strong again,” says the older sister, who has grown up
too quickly. In Dollo Ado, there are too many grownup children.
Most people in Dollo Ado only have what they could carry when they
left Somalia. Daruro Mohammed is different. The 21 year old somehow
managed to carry an ancient sewing machine with her. “I was a teacher at
a primary school. But due to the Al-Shabaab terror, the kids did not
come anymore. So I started to sew,” the mother of three explains. A
digital watch on her left wrist and a mobile phone in her right hand
both signify that she belongs to the “upper class” of Dollo Ado. Beside
the chattering sewing machine, the little shop in her tent is her second
main support. Abdi has milk powder, soap and cheap flip flops on offer.
But who has money to buy it?
“Some of the oil I will sell, to buy milk powder for my grand
children,” Khairo Muktar says. In one of the five WPF food distribution
centres other refugee women have just filled four litres into Muktar´s
dirty jerry can. Every month, WFP distributes 16 kilos grain, 1,5 kilos
pulses, 1,5 kilo corn-soy-blend, 900 grams oil, 450 sugar and 150 grams
salt. According to WFP that should be enough for a whole month, but most
refugees claim that everything is finished after 20 days. It is
difficult to check whether that is true, or whether the refugees take
part of their rations to family members on the other side of the river
Jubba, to Somalia.
A stubborn mule refuses to go any further when he is forced to step
on the little iron bridge that connects Ethiopia with Somalia. It seems
the donkey simply does not want to return to the war torn country. On
the Somalian side, the Ethiopian army established a military outpost. In
2006, Ethiopia invaded neighbouring Somalia and toppled the Union of
the Islamic Courts, which paved the way for the even more radical
Al-Shabaab. Ethiopia withdrew its troops, only to invade again in
The Ethiopian and Kenyan invasion, and the troops of the Transitional
Federal government in in the Capital Mogadishu – backed by theAfrican
Union and the West – have weakened Al Shabaab – but the Islamists are
not defeated yet.
“We do not expect that peace will prevail in Somalia soon. Most
refugees will stay in the camps for a long time,” a UN official in Dollo
Ado says. Farah does not care what the UN man says. He continues to
sing his Somalia song.