Children are bearing the brunt of the Horn of Africa crisis and constitute the majority of all Somali refugees in neighbouring Ethiopia, the United Nations reported today.
The latest demographic data shows that people under the age of 18 account for 80 per cent of the 121,000 refugees in four camps in the Dollo Ado area of south-eastern Ethiopia, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In Kobe camp, children comprise 88.6 per cent of the estimated refugee population of more than 25,000. Most families are female-headed households with large numbers of children, including young relatives or orphans, Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva.
“We remain concerned about the high mortality rates due to severe acute malnutrition and diseases,” he said. “Also worrying is the number of separated or unaccompanied children.”
The number of unaccompanied children could be as high as 2,500 in the four camps in Ethiopia. “We are carrying out a screening this week in refugee camps in Dollo Ado to better understand the scope of the problem and determine what may be in the best interest of these children,” Mr. Edwards added.
Women in the camps have told UNHCR staff that it is not safe for Somali men to travel because they feared that armed group might forcibly conscript them. Men have also been opting to remain in their villages in Somalia to protect whatever property their families may have, care for those too sick to travel and to tend to any remaining livestock.
“Some families simply have no means for everyone to travel together, so women and children are sent first. However, over the past few weeks our staff have observed that there are more single men arriving from Somalia to join their families,” said Mr. Edwards.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to provide other relief items to people receiving food aid from other agencies in the famine-stricken areas of southern Somalia.
“We are preparing to distribute 7,500 emergency assistance packages consisting of plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen utensils for nearly 50,000 people in the Bay region, where famine has just been declared,” said Mr. Edwards.
An estimated 70,000 people will be assisted in Lower Shabelle, which is also in a state of famine, while more than 50,000 people will be reached through distributions in Mogadishu and 30,000 in the Gedo and Lower Juba areas.
By the end of August, UNHCR had reached almost 220,000 people with emergency relief and aims to assist an additional 180,000 by the end of this month.
According to UNHCR Somalia representative, Bruno Geddo, it is crucial that aid be distributed in large amounts and as quickly as possible inside Somalia to maintain the recent downward trend in the number of refugees arriving in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Mr. Geddo, who recently visited Dollow on the Somalia-Ethiopian border and Mogadishu, said that internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia had expressed to him their desire to remain in their own country rather than cross the border in search of assistance.