Internally displaced people and humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia

Ethiopia needs to amend its legislation and redesign its policy of dealing with internally displaced people (IDPs).  

Ethiopia has been dealing with the crisis of internal displacement for decades. However, these displacements have become more concerning in the last three years, and the highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Horn of Africa and around the continent has been witnessed in Ethiopia during 2018 and 2019.

There were more than 2.9 million IDPs at the end of 2018, and this increased to 3.04 million in 2019. Although conflict remains to be the major cause of internal displacement in the country, flood and drought are also factors that have escalated the crisis.

The confrontation between the federal military and Tigrayan regional forces has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands displaced in Tigray and, more recently, Amhara and Afar regions.

Internal displacement for people in Ethiopia has become recurrent and continuous with conflicts and ongoing intra- ethnic violence. By the end of 2020, conflicts were the primary cause of displacement, displacing more than 1.2  million people across the country.

The common challenges IDPs face include lack of access to livelihood, health, social life, shelter, basic services, and infrastructure. IDPs travel far to get to health facilities, and this puts their safety and security at risk. Poor governance and poor security along with forced resettlement programs and human rights violations also result in severe consequences for the well-being of IDPs.

There are various efforts that were conducted by the Ethiopian federal and regional governments and the international community to tackle these challenges.

The Ethiopian federal government, which is the leading body that provides directions at both regional and national levels, has introduced peace building strategies and voluntary return programs.

The main aim of these strategies is to ensure the safety of IDPs and provide them with support. Another strategy that was adopted by the government were durable solutions initiative (DSI) at local and national levels, the first implementation of which began in 2017.

Prior to that, the country had no clear policy or strategy regarding intervention for IDPs. The government has usually attributed the internal displacement crisis to ‘’natural disasters,’’ fearing that the mention of conflict would ‘’damage the country’s reputation.’’ This has held back reforms and policies for IDPs from progressing, resulting in IDPs becoming more vulnerable.

Despite the many efforts that have been carried out, plans or strategies are neither effectively working nor detailed due to breakdowns of communications and engagements among different levels of government and aid agencies.

As expressed by a government official, Ethiopia has ‘’no formal arrangement when it comes to IDPs, and the issue of IDPs is mostly considered a crosscutting issue.’’

However, there is one IDPs advisory committee to the UN humanitarian country team which is chaired by UN humanitarian coordinator, led by the Ethiopian government national disaster risk reduction management commission, and supported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA.)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Danish refugee council (DRC) are also stake holders.

There are various governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations involved in supporting intervention programs and assistance with most of these organizations.

However, to handle the crisis of internal displacement, there should be clear and detailed humanitarian intervention which is free from governmental restrictions. Since Ethiopia is one of the countries that has ratified the Kampala convention on refugees and IDPs in 2019, the Ethiopian government needs to adopt new domestic rules and amend its legislation based on these laws to protect and assist the IDPs in Ethiopia.

Furthermore, early warning mechanisms also need to be effectively adopted to ensure that all threats are predicted and responded to on time to reduce impact on IDPs.

To reduce the risks that IDPs face during the time of displacement and after, there should be improvements in basic service delivery for both IDPs and host communities, and integrations between communities should be promoted by providing good and quality social services that can be accessed by all. Construction of water resource development projects in IDPs sites should be carried out as they reduce shortage of water, improve the livelihoods of IDPs, and reduce disease outbreak.

In addition, government implemented IDP return programs need to be carried out with sufficient preparations to ensure the principles of voluntarism, safety, and dignity of IDPs, and facilitate sustainable relocation and integration through consultations with host communities.

The government needs to be supported to deliver the development of socio-economic and governance services, and humanitarian partners should strengthen the assistance they provide through collaborative forms and capacity building, system-based humanitarian approach. Currently, the government policy towards humanitarian crisis is through response, resilience, and recovery programs–a policy that is inefficient compared to capacity building, system-based humanitarian approach.

Adopting these systems to face the humanitarian crisis needs an alignment of national policies regarding humanitarian issues with other partners’ mandates and activities and reach consensus to find clearly put solutions for internal displacement.

It is also worth noting that many partner organizations and countries that are involved in funding and support of IDP intervention programs in the country are not well organized, and, thus, not sufficient in responding IDPs’ needs. Accordingly, humanitarian partners need to prioritize organization and ensure that enough resources are allocated.

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Main photo: Koloji IDP camp in Somali region; June 2021; Mustafe Adan.

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Mistir Sew

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  • As for the brazen corruption vice of asdociated with the aid and foreign agencies , I recall one particularly brazen incident in JigJiga back in 2018 while I was short visit. It was waning days of TPLF’s notorious accomplice Abdi Ilay rule. One morning an angry and semi-literate fellow so-called minister,,dont know what was his claimed portfolio, came physically to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) office and shut down it and chased out the employees. Asked the reason, it was told because the agency was rented new office without his permission,They were supposed instead to rent his own property or somehow pay kick backstop him in the transaction. So what you expect aid agencies would right do when local official are engaging this unethical despicable behavior in plain view? This isjust the tip of the iceberg of the common stories like this.

  • Yes, one can understand the pain, challenges and dilemmas faced by the IDP. But all things said, and done the primary responsiblity of their protection, welfare ,etc lies with national governmens be it during conflict/natural disaster or post-conflict period. Any national government or leaders that fails this role for its citizens as in Africa and elsewhere isn’t worth the name and shouldn’t be there at all. Aid agencies and patterns can only act as a bridge and bandaid and that is if only fmanaged honestly and effectively . They could never be a substitute for government’s role and responsibility. And don’t forget these patterns bear nefarious and self interest agenda for third parties of the so,-called donors, needless to mention the corruption and incompetence associated with them!

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