Drought, fighting worsens situation of "Ogaden refugees"

Drought and recent fighting around the town of Beletweyne, in central Somalia's Hiiraan region, have aggravated the plight of at least 1,000 Ethiopian refugee families, who were already facing acute food shortages, local sources told IRIN.

Most of these refugees, living in camps for the displaced in Bilis-did and Bulo-korah (on the outskirts of Beletweyne), are Somalis from Ogaden in Ethiopia's Somali region. They fled in 1977 during the war between Ethiopia and Somalia.

"Most of us fled from Kumisar, Afdub, Rebo, Omar Don and Dhur-dher locations in Kalafe district of the Somali region of Ethiopia," Kamis Abdi Day, an elder of the two camps, told IRIN. "We were farming communities; some of us fled during the war while others arrived following the drought that hit the region."

The refugees are also known as the Rer Shabelle, meaning families who live alongside River Shabelle. Before the latest fighting in Beletweyne, they survived by doing manual work in the town and in farms surrounding the camps.

"It seems the international community forgot us when Siad Barre was overthrown," Day said.

With the recent fighting, Day said, most of the displaced were unable to earn their keep as markets were closed and movement impeded.

"We are now facing starvation and malnutrition," he said.

Day said the group used to receive international aid during the Barre administration; he was ousted in 1991.

"Things changed with Barre's removal from office; since then, we have not gotten much help; only ACPO [a local NGO] has supplied us with some food. We could not flee the latest hostility [in Beletweyne] because we are poor people and we don't know where to go."

A journalist based in Beletweyne, who requested anonymity, said the refugee situation was deteriorating.

''It seems the international community forgot us when Siad Barre was overthrown''

"They have not had much to eat since fighting [between insurgents and government forces] erupted in the region," the journalist said.

Despite the presence of local partners of UN agencies, the Ethiopian refugees in Bilis-did and Bulo-korah camps were not receiving any aid, the journalist said.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR-Somalia, confirmed that the groups were considered "persons of concern", although they were not receiving specific assistance from UN relief agencies as refugees, aside from general assistance programmes for vulnerable communities in the area.

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