This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is urging more support for the nearly one million people displaced by recent violence in South Western Ethiopia, including those who have returned home.
Since April of this year, conflict between communities in the border areas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region and the Oromia Region of Ethiopia has forced civilians to flee their homes. The recent violence followed more than a year of drought and tension over resources.
Civilians tell of watching houses being burned to the ground, neighbours turning on neighbours, and being forced to flee with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
UNHCR is responding to the urgent needs of the displaced persons and returnees after requests by the Ethiopian government for humanitarian assistance. We have deployed two Emergency Response Teams on the ground in Gedeo and West Guji areas.
While people still continue to flee, government estimates suggest that over 200,000 people have returned to their areas of origin. UNHCR and partners are calling for all returns to be voluntary and conducted in safety and dignity. Our initial monitoring suggests that Internally Displaced Persons -IDPs’- views on return remain varied, with some individuals expressing reluctance to return for fear that violence will start again.
Our teams observed many of the IDPs being hosted in schools, hospitals and other public buildings. Those who have returned home to their plots of land or farms often find that there is nothing left. Infrastructure like schools, coffee factories and health centres have been partially or entirely destroyed.
Displaced people, host communities and returnees are in dire need of assistance for basic necessities like food, water, blankets and cooking supplies. Shelter materials, especially plastic sheeting, are urgently needed before the heavy seasonal rains.
UNHCR teams on the ground are providing 50,000 emergency kits comprised of kitchen sets, sleeping mats, blankets, plastic sheets and jerry cans, with funding from the CERF (UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund). So far, 17,400 kits have been dispatched to the region and more are on the way. Hygiene and sanitary items, as well as clothing, are urgently needed. Many of the IDPs own nothing but the clothes they arrived in, which cannot keep them warm on cold nights. As the rains intensify, those staying in makeshift shelters are at risk of serious health problems and disease outbreak.
We and our partners urgently need resources to continue providing life-saving assistance. For the coming 12 months, we need USD 21.5 million for the IDP response.
UNHCR’s current support during this crisis is in addition to providing assistance to some 854,000 refugees in the country.
For more information on this topic, please contact: