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The Plight of ogaden Regugees: Time for UN to Protect them

By Saafi (Hoodo) Labafidhin

The plight of unprotected Ogaden Refugees

The Ogaden territory has for over a century been an isolated battle ground whose once proud people were subjected to flee from what we can describe as successive brutal regimes under which uncountable number of victims were killed, and yet many hundreds of thousands were made refugees. In this short writing we will elaborate the plight of these unprotected civilians.

Refugees defined: The international definition of refugee contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol puts REFUGEE as - Any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular

The Ogaden Refugees history dates back to late nineteenth century when the British was engaged an armed fighting with the late Sayyid Muhammed Abdalla Hassan in various Somali inhabited areas, where Ogaden was on of them. It was reported that there were neutral tribes living in this area whom was caught in the middle of a

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brutal battle, particularly from the British Army side who confiscated camels of those who they perceived to be either neutral or against their colonisation (for the first time in the history of the region). However, mass displacement of Ogaden refugees begun only after sixties and seventies in twentieth century. Since then a large number (from my experience I can say 30-40% of the entire native Ogaden population, if not more) Ogaden refugees has been displaced (both internally and externally), though it still remains unreported to the rest of the world!!!

After Somalia’s independence, the first official encounter between Somalia and Ethiopia has taken place in 1964 over Ogaden. This marks the period when well-known mass displacement of fleeing Somalis from Ogaden sought refuge within the modern Somalia border. Nevertheless, it was in 70s when the second time the Military rulers of Somalia and Ethiopia fought a brutal war over Ogaden. The largest number of People was displaced by Ethiopian Derg regime particularly after the World, both East and West, sided with Ethiopia and the triumphant Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) and Somali National Army (SNA) were forced to accept a humiliating defeat only by the mighty of the then Soviet block led by Russia and Cuba. As this was a very tough time for Somalis living Ogaden and elsewhere in Ethiopia, they were left with single choice: to run to Somalia for their safety. Even the dozens of Somalis who lived in the famous ‘Somali Tera’ in Addis Ababa have met nothing but belligerent Amharas and finally they were threatened to clear out or got killed. That one cru

In all times of affliction, no one come to their help, except the Republic of Somalia with very limited support from the United Nations.

Despite the bigger Ogaden war came to a halt in 1978, genocide and displacement of our people continued but unfortunately remained unpublicized.

In 1991, to the astonishment of many, the downfall of the two most powerful regimes in east Africa i.e. Somalia and Ethiopia occurred. It was seen as a window of opportunity. Partly it was. After the brutal civil war in Somalia, native Ogaden refugees had to come back to their home as second time refugees! Indeed while a great deal of them including me and my family dared to return to what we call our home, a large number preferred to take other routes like Djibouti, Kenya, and Yemen etc that they thought safer ( the largest number crossing border to Kenya.)

Current Ogaden Refugees and their condition: Somalia (Self Proclaimed Somaliland –Hargaysa and Burco , and Puntland Region –Mainly  in Bosaso)

  • Somaliland and Puntland Administration

Somalis from Ogaden who run for their lives from the ruthless TPLF regime have sought shelter and protection in Northern (self proclaimed Somaliland Administration) and Notheastern Somalia (Puntland), not because they get assistance from these administrations but because Somalis everywhere are related by kindred in some way or the other!! It is well known both administrations are loyal to Addis Ababa regime and thus cooperate with them by arresting and deporting these refugees illegally back to Ethiopia only to disappear forever in the hands of Ethiopian military. More worse is planned assassinations of Ogaden High profile individuals in these two areas by the order of Zenawi army commanders.

More recently, there has been ongoing despute between the Somaliland and Puntland over the town of Laas Caanood. During the war of words between them, each was blaming the other for supporting and harbouring Foreign Terrorists, a subjecy which has nothing to do with their despute over Laas Caanood but aimed at winning the support of Ethiopia which has been notorious for backing and arming separatist Somali movements in an effort to undermine the unity of Somalis.

Somaliland immediately went ahead and arrested more than 32 Somali individuals from Ogaden some of whom are well known and have long been established in Hargaysa and contributed to Trade, Education and other important activities. After unlawful arrest and bitter torture, they handed over to Ethiopian military representatives who were waiting at Wajaale. According to relatives and the media, nobody knows the whereabouts of these victims.

While Somaliland seems more bellicose in their act, Puntland has also been out of their mind more than once that they allowed and coordinated the assassination of well-respected Ogaden personalities inside Puntland. All these miserable victims were innocent refugees escaping from a bitter suffering from the hands of TPLF Army. The post town of Bosaso has attracted fleeing Somalis from Ogaden mainly women and children as was reported by the media, including several Western Newspapers. These people have temporary peace but not deserved humanitarian care and support neither from the Puntland administration nor the United Nations agencies.
Both administrations must keep international laws and brotherly ties between the Ogaden their respective people.

  • Kenya:

Kenya is believed to be home of the largest Ogaden Somali Refugees outside Somalia and Ethiopia. As we tried to shed some light on this previously, most of them are Ogaden Refugees from Somalia and their children many of whom were born in the refugee camps. The majority live in Dadaab Refugee Camp where on last July this year one of the biggest demonstrations against Meles Zenawi’s crackdown against civilians took place.

Unlike their Somali bothers from the Republic, only small number of them were able to be resettled in the West in the name of ‘Somali Refugees’ and they face many challenges among the most important being no recognition from the United Nations as well as the Ethiopian government which claims Ogaden to be part of Ethiopia. It is also worthy mentioning many Ogaden refugees have relatives in the Somali inhabited North-eastern Province and live with them in order to survive.

  • Djibouti:

Despite its size and limited resources, Djibouti’s Holhol Refugee Camp welcomed some refugees fleeing from Ogaden and has a sizable Ogadens alongside others from the Somali Republic. However, many middle class people who had businesses back home and feared for their lives lead normal lives as they are engaged in business activities and education. However they face legal challenges as Djibouti government (unlike the ‘failed’ Republic of Somalia) don’t consider as equal as other Djibouti citizens.

Other countries that harbour Ogaden Refugees include Yemen, Eritrea (increasing since recent years), and South Africa where a myriad of young men and sometimes women sought to make a living in the shadow of hostile environment. I personally know many young men who were once the best performing students in the Ogaden who made it to South Africa after some of their friends were deprived of life by the Ethiopian Army. Similarly, around the world the are many diversified refugees (some resettled in the West after they claimed to have fled from Somalia, for their chance of resettlement is very limited if they reveal their Ogaden identity).

IDPs: apart from the above mentioned refugees, thousands of people have become Internally Displaced People (IDPs) since TPLF’s collective punishment policy was launched. As their villages were burnt, family members executed, livestock confiscated, trade and any commodity necessary for survival blocked, the existence IDPs everywhere, especially in bigger towns rapidly increased. As this is not enough, they face continued threat from the brutal undisciplined TPLF army. This section of the society is need of immediate protection from the United Nations.

The way forward

International Community: every year the world led by USA and the EU take more refugees either independently or with the help of UNHCR –the refugee office of the UN. They also lobby for the protection of refugees inside their home. The Somalis in Ogaden face enormous atrocities inside as well as outside their home, atrocities that make them eligible to the status of refugee’s definition above. Hence the International community has moral responsibility to protect these poor people who have long suffered under black clonialisation. They should be entitled to the same rights as that of Darfur, Palestinians, Oromos, People from Gambella and Southern Sudan, Iraq etc. As the current Ethiopian regime cant do without international community donations particularly the US and UK, we ask these governments and their people to stand against

The United Nations: The United Nations (UN) which was founded in October 24 (the UN will celebrate the Organization’s sixtieth anniversary) 1945 comprises 192 member countries (nearly every country in the world) and is expected to work toward maintaining international peace and security and finding solutions for global economic and humanitarian problems. As such it is expected to promote humanity and humanitarian activities equally throughout the world.  Contrary to this we see the United Nations being engaged in double standardness. They cry and exaggerate Darfur while they keep being reticent about the atrocities unfolding in Ogaden in front of their eyes. Of course they sent a low profile team, only after the International media, mainly the New York Times, exposed the TPLF’s savage attack on the innocent civilians, to make some assessment on the humanitarian situation. This group came up with some significant recommendations which seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The people in the Ogaden wonder why there is no implementation taking place on the ground except some unfruitful meetings held for the press in Addis –far away from the heart of the problem. Many people, including me, ask themselves (cannot dare to ask others) why the is no an ‘independent investigation’ as per the UN team recommendations.

As reported by IRIN on 19 October 2007, we heard that UN has reached terms with the Ethiopian government ‘in a bid to avert a humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia's Somali region, the government and the UN have agreed measures to ensure that food aid, medicines and other relief supplies reach vulnerable people in the area’ we really like to see this happen but suspect this food will be used to feed the Ethiopian military as happened many times before. Therefore, the UN should make every effort to avoid such things.

We particularly urge the UN to stop Somaliland’s Ogaden renditions and to immediately recognize the plight of all the above mentioned unprotected Ogaden refugees, everywhere.

EPRDF Regime: despite your arguments, we, the Ogaden Somalis living under the permanent nightmare of your regime’s brutality and cruel atrocities, know that you have always targeted unarmed civilians and still continue to collectively punish them. It is high time to rethink your poor policies against the undefended civilians. Though your systematic ethnic cleansing continue, things have changed for the Ogaden people and your actions are well-documented. We urge you to cooperate with the United Nations and its representatives without any conditions. It is in all parties’ interest that you stop barefaced lies and wedge politics you have been implementing in the Ogaden. We will never forget how you impoverished our self-sufficient pastoralists, how you carried out extrajudicial killings, tortured us, raped our dear sisters; we will live with the memory of Fooljeex, Qoriile, Labiga, Lehelow, Caado, Galadiid, Gerigo’an, Farmadow, Maraacaato, Daratoole, and Araweelo to mention a few. We will die them more than you could die for your HAWZEN.

By: Saafi (Hoodo) Labafidhin
[email protected]

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