A three decades old refugee camp in Ethiopia’s Somali region is being formally incorporated into the surrounding town, in a “first-of-its-kind” refugee integration effort in Ethiopia.
Kebribeyah Refugee Camp is now officially part of Kebribeyah Town, according to a joint statement from officials this week.
The development aims to ensure full inclusion of refugees and facilitate their local integration by recognizing camp residents and their hosts as part of “one community.”
The integrated camp-town will see further development of infrastructure and public services to serve residents, officials said.
On May 31, 2023 heads of Ethiopia’s Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS), the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Somali regional authorities signed a deal to implement the integration project.
Approximately 16,000 refugees have lived or been born in the Kebribeyah Refugee Camp during its lifespan, according to a joint statement by the institutions involved. As of April 2023, the UNHCR data shows that close to 18,000 refugees are currently sheltering at one of Ethiopia’s oldest camps.
More than 100,000 Somali refugees who have fled conflict in Somaliland have recently arrived in Ethiopia. About one million refugees altogether from neighboring countries have made Ethiopia their safe home.
Somali region in eastern Ethiopia hosts the second-largest number of refugees after Gambella.
The MoU signed by the three parties is the first one Ethiopia has signed so far with the same aim. It “defines a roadmap for refugees’ inclusion and local integration” of the camp and its surroundings. The next steps will involve infrastructure development, including water systems, housing, energy, and livelihoods.
According to the statement, the agreement is expected to enable the two refugee-focused institutions to cooperate more with the regional administration by “bringing together global and regional expertise and combining it with local knowledge and leadership.”
Those in attendance at the signing included the country representative of UNHCR, Mamadou Balde, and Somali Regional State Vice President, Ibrahim Ousman.
Commenting further on the development, the UNHCR Ethiopia Office wrote to The Reporter that the UN refugee agency is working with the authorities, humanitarian and development partners “to further advance and support for sustainable refugee settlement in the context of Kebribeyah’s urban and rural development.”
Ibrahim stated that “the implementation of the MoU will formalize Kebribeyah residents, refugees, and hosts as one community.”
Tesfahun Gobezay, the director general RRS, the government executive in charge of overseeing refugee issues, was also present at the signing. The statement quoted Tesfahun saying, “the MoU lays a cornerstone of a bold move to ensure refugees’ self-reliance and inclusive services.”
Despite efforts by The Reporter to obtain further comments from Tesfahun and Somali Region’s vice president, no additional comments were received.