07/05/2012 05:20 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

Somalia Refugees Trek Across Desert Seeking Safety in Ethiopia (PHOTOS)

(Dollo Ado, Ethiopia) July 5, 2012 -- The Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) told Jesuit Refugee Service recently that the flow of refugees from Somalia into the Dollo Ado area has increased from about 300 a week to 1,000 a week. 

The influx is blamed on a militant group. Refugees told JRS the militants force rural Somalis to make a harsh choice: give up a son to join the fighters, or pay the militants off with camels or cash. 

The Somali subsistence farmers cannot afford to lose what livestock they may have, nor can they afford to pay the cash in order to make the militants go away. So they pack what they can and begin the long journey across the desert to find refuge in Ethiopia. Several refugees JRS spoke to at the transit center in Dollo Ado last month told us they had walked six days to cross the desert frontier before finding Ethiopian authorities. 

Ethiopia: refugees flee Somalia seeking security

Refugees are brought to the transit center here to be registered by ARRA and UNHCR before being transported to one of five refugee camps in the area. Refugees typically stay at the transit center for no more than 15 days, with the newest arrivals in the oldest accommodations -- ragged remainders of what were once crude tarpaulin shelters. 

Refugees who have been at the center for several days live in functional tents, which offer some shelter against the blowing sand and direct sunlight, but which provide little relief from the heat. As these refugees move to the camps, the newer arrivals take their places and so refugees are constantly cycled through the shelters.

Jesuit Refugee Service operates several projects in the largest of the camps, Melkadida, which is about 42 miles from Dollo Ado. More than 40,000 refugees live in tents at the camp. JRS provides counseling, adult literacy and a variety of youth programs at the camp. The youth program is so successful that UNHCR has asked JRS to relocate the program at the nearby Kobe refugee camp, where 27,000 refugees live. JRS Ethiopia is studying the logistical and financial requirements necessary in order to do so.

Click here to learn more about Jesuit Refugee Service in the Horn of Africa on the JRS/USA website.

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