Starting all over
Shelter, protection, access to water and food – needs are basic for the thousands of Somalis seeking refuge in Dollow, a remote area of Somalia. Unmet, these needs have immediate and immense impact on health and survival in the makeshift camps, and can eventually cost lives. Danish Refugee Council is on the ground providing essential emergency assistance in Dollow.
Women dressed in colorful dresses and scarves are waiting patiently in the sun – some lay on top of what appears as little stacks of hay. Most look determined and concentrated, focusing on a man in the distance with a red cap, papers and a pen, registering people. For a moment it all seems harmonious and peaceful in the outskirts of Dollow, a small town in South Central Somalia, right on the Ethiopian border. But it’s not. This is far from home from most of the people here, and the women on the hay stacks are among thousands of displaced who have lost everything - some even family members. The man with the cap is an employee of Danish Refugee Council, one of the aid organisations in Dollow providing emergency assistance in the settlements. He is keeping track of the people who are waiting in line for today’s distribution.
Far from home
War for more than two decades, clan conflict, and armed insurgency, compounded by recurrent droughts and even famine - there are plenty of risk factors in Somalia, and even more pronounced for those living in South Central Somalia. This is where Dollow is located. Right on the border with Ethiopia, the two countries separated by a river here, and a border-crossing which has been the ultimate route for Somalis to escape consequences of war and drought in recent years.
The settlements on the other side of the river, in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia, have been hosting close to 200,000 refugees when the humanitarian crisis peaked during the 2011 drought and famine in the region. The drought is over, but the complex humanitarian crisis in Somalia persists and continues to affect lives and livelihoods throughout the country – both in areas where people are fleeing clan fighting or Al Shabaab insurgents, and in areas where communities are trying to host and cope with the influx of internally displaced people.
The women on the little stacks of hay are waiting in line for a new home. They are among the estimated 16,000 Somalis who have found refuge here in the outskirts of Dollow. The hay stacks are several sheets of what is traditional material for shelter. The dried grass stitched together in sheets will be patched on a round frame of sticks and eventually become a new home for some time – in months or more likely years to come. Some have already been here for many years and need new shelter, while others are new arrivals and need everything for their uncertain future in displacement. Most of them left home with only the clothes they were wearing, and have not been able to go back.
‘I have been here one year and three months,’ tells Fatuma Abdi Bule, 45 and a mother of six. She comes from an area called Din Soor in Bay Region in South Central Somalia. Four of her children died within four years – between 2000 and 2004. One of them was stillborn, she tells, and three died from what Fatuma believe was simple disease but something which was never treated as war and fighting isolated them from access to medical aid and assistance. They were weak and got sick, she tells, and could not recover. She and her husband are left with six children, the oldest being 23 years old and the youngest 6. Life and living is difficult here, too. But is safer than in the village they come from in Bay Region and they have access to medical assistance and emergency aid as that from Danish Refugee Council.
‘To make just a little money I need to walk three kilometers to fetch firewood which I can sell in the local market. I know that this is risky and that women have been attacked in these areas where we can collect the wood, but there is no other option,’ says Fatuma Abdi Bule.
In the village in Bay region where Fatuma Abdi Bule and her family come from, their livelihoods used to depend on the income they could make from a small shop selling cooking utensils. When the militant Islamic group, Al Shabaab took charge of the area, taxes were imposed on businesses like that of Fatuma Abdi Bule and her family. They were obliged to pay 70 dollars every month to the insurgent group and when they could not do so, her husband was jailed. He managed to be released after three days. That was when they decided to leave in fear of what the next step would be. They sold their shop and all their belongings and left within 24 hours, she tells. Having heard from others leaving before them that Dollow was a safe place and where they could remain in their own country, this was where they decided to seek refuge.
Women at work
The shelters typical for the area are traditionally constructed by women while the men are away as the breadwinner of their families. This is also there case in the settlements for displaced in Dollow, where women in all ages including mothers with babies on their backs are working to build the new shelters. The basic structure takes one whole day, when sticks are dug into the ground and shaped before adding the cover of hay mats. This last part takes less than two hours when the women work together, Fatuma Abdi Bule explains.
Finally, her new shelter will be covered with plastic sheets. Till now, Fatuma Abdi Bule and her family have lived in a simple shelter put together from clothes, bags and cardboard boxes - what was available and at hand to give them with initial shelter and a place to sleep at night.
Waiting to return home
Fatuma Abdi Bule is grateful for her new and improved shelter. But she still misses home and hope to be able to go back in near future. Like many of the other displaced people in Dollow they are waiting for peace and some signs of stability in their home area before they will return to their home or origin. When this will be the case, Fatuma Abdi Bule will deconstruct her new shelter and bring it with her. This way, they will not have to start all over once more, but be able to settle more easily and at least have a home to live in, in the village the long for.
Danish Refugee Council is providing emergency assistance to displaced in the settlement in Somaliland through funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)