January 17, 2011

Ethiopia exports more than coffee: Oromo refugees, fear and destitution in Kenya (OSG & ORA-UK Field Study in Kenya)

This report follows a field study in Kenya which was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, UK.
Published by the Oromo Relief Association UK and the Oromia Support Group.

Oromo Relief Association
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Oromia Support Group
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Ethiopia exports more than coffee:
Oromo refugees, fear and destitution in Kenya.


In an intensive two week investigation into health and security needs of Oromo refugees in Kenya, 58 were interviewed in Kakuma and Dadaab camps and in two estates in Nairobi. Refugees reported very high levels of torture and rape in Ethiopia. Out of 27 men who were interviewed, 25 had been detained and 20 (80%) of former detainees had been tortured. Out of 31 women interviewed, 16 had been detained. Nine (56%) of these had been raped in detention. One other was raped by a soldier in her home.

The refugees complained of excessive delays in status determination by UNHCR, often due to repeatedly postponed appointments, and voiced their frustration in waiting long periods for resettlement opportunities. They believed that other groups were more successful in being resettled, sometimes using false Oromo identities. Although instances of this undoubtedly occur, it was not possible to confirm whether or not there is a significant difference in the rates of resettlement between groups. UNHCR has an impossible workload and in many ways copes admirably under difficult circumstances. Means of distinguishing genuine Oromo claimants were explored.

The main problems expressed were related to security and mental health. Refugees in Kakuma, especially unaccompanied women, lived in fear of attack by thieves and rapists. In the Dadaab camps, racist abuse and violence from Somalis severely restricted economic and social life. Misery and mental ill-health were worse in the camps than in Nairobi. Insecurity from police is possibly declining in Eastleigh estate, Nairobi, but theft and rape remain serious problems, again most severely affecting unaccompanied women. Security threats from agents of the Ethiopia government are much more severe in Nairobi than in the camps. Some reported threats are due to fear and paranoia. Others are invented in order to promote chances of resettlement. However, significant and serious security threats from those acting on behalf of the Ethiopian government are common and affect large numbers of refugees. Detailed accounts of the refoulement of five mandated refugees and an account of three awaiting refugee status determination were recorded.


They come and ask questions but what is the effect?

The research was undertaken with the aim of raising the profile of problems faced by Oromo refugees in Kenya. It is often a necessarily bleak and miserable history. It is a story that must be told and is not intended to be comfortable reading.

I wish to emphasise the profound respect I have for the dignity and resilience of those with whom I spoke in Kenya. The research was humbling and inspiring.
In the course of the interviewing process, it became obvious that many refugees felt a need to tell their story and express their frustration and anguish. I hope this was therapeutic in itself, but am concerned that by causing refugees to revisit past traumas and to dwell on current anxieties and frustrations, I may have left them more traumatised. If that is the case, I hope that the positive effects of this study will offset this discomfort.


The extent of human rights abuse in Ethiopia is documented by annual reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department. Other reports by Human Rights Watch1 and the Oromia Support Group2 include many detailed accounts of individual violations of basic human rights.
The number of Oromo asylum-seekers in Europe and North America has mushroomed since 1992 but the majority who have escaped persecution in Ethiopia have fled to neighbouring countries, where many have been subject to killings and refoulement.

In the course of the present study, I spoke to a refugee who had been subject to refoulement from Djibouti and I interviewed others who had seen recognised refugees killed and 4000 sent back to Ethiopia from Djibouti in 2004. I heard an Oromo describe many drowning on a sea crossing from Puntland to Yemen, and others being refouled from Yemen to Ethiopia.

Refugees who had travelled from Somaliland within the last month told me about the refoulement of their colleague, a mandate holding refugee, from there and the continuing insecurity of about 1600 Oromo UNHCR mandate refugees because of a heavy Ethiopian troop presence there. They also reported about 3500 Oromo refugees, mostly with UNHCR mandates, in Bosasso, Puntland.

To read the full report, please download the attached document in .pdf Format.

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