Livelihoods projects support long-term refugees in Ethiopia
“When I have learned all this, I will start a tailoring business to provide for my family,” says Faiza Mahmud Said. The elderly woman in the yellow headscarf cuts white paper into different shapes. It’s one of the first days of the tailoring course for the Somali refugees in Awbarre refugee camp, Jijiga, Eastern Ethiopia. The skills taught in the workshop are meant to provide the participants with an independent income source.
Awbarre seems like a forgotten place: Two refugee camps, Awbarre and Shedder, situated on each side of a host community and a seasonal river. The arid region is close to the Somalia border, the only paved road a chain of checkpoints. Apart from that, little black sheep with whiteheads, a Somali breed, seem to be the main inhabitants of the area.
Faiza Mahmud Said, like the majority of the 22,500 Somali refugees in the two camps, has been here for almost ten years. There is little international attention for the protracted refugee situation of Somalis in Ethiopia, and even less funding. Said belongs to a family of 21 people. Food is distributed once a month.
“The food only lasts for two weeks,” she says. “Then we wash clothes or dig holes for the host community as day labourers. Our children are in school, but there are no job opportunities here for them.”
ACT member The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been present in Ethiopia for four decades, after establishing its presence in 1973 at the request of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). Through projects like the one in Jijiga LWF aims to provide long-term refugees and their hosts with a livelihood and reduce their dependency on aid. Even more, the project provides training and skills the refugees can use – wherever they may live in the future. Assistance and training opportunities also benefit members of the host community living immediately next to the refugee camps.
While many of the men chose the barber training, the majority of the women opt for tailoring or hairdressing. “I get about 10-15 customers a week,” says Suhai Ismael Abuker. The 19-year-old with the help of LWF has opened a beauty salon in her home because there is no electricity to power the hairdressing shops set up in the marketplace.
Qualification and work experience
“Many customers come at the end of the month when rations are distributed and the families have money again”, she says. Her orders are mostly hairdressing and henna for weddings. In the camp like in any Ethiopian town, children are born, grow up, marry and start new families. Like Said, Abuker supports her family with the money she earns. She hopes to expand her business and open more shops one day. Currently however her income is a small addition to the family budget. Most of her customers request henna – which costs 50 birrs, less than 2 dollars per decorated hand or foot.
None of the inhabitants of the Awbarre and Shedder camps is planning for a quick return. “Somalia is not safe, it’s not a place you can return to,” says Yusuf Abdulrahman Hasan, a young man who arrived in Ethiopia in 2009 and now trains with LWF to become a barber. As a teenager, he fled bombing by Al-Shabaab militia, and from what he hears on the news, things have only gotten worse. Hasan plans to use his time as a refugee to gain qualifications and work experience while waiting for a possibility to return.
Alternatives to the dangerous journey
Not all are this optimistic. As their situation remains unchanged for ten or more years, especially the young refugees, the dream of being resettled to the US. As this possibility becomes more and more unlikely, they are discussing to take a different route: towards Libya, and from there across the Mediterranean.
“We know it is dangerous,” a young woman says. “We still want to go. We have no future here, without work or money.” Her aunt went to Europe, she last heard from her when she had arrived in Libya. That was four years ago. The dream of a better life in the global North is stronger than the knowledge that every summer, thousands die on the journey to Europe.
The LWF livelihood project also offers a different perspective to those whose minds are set on leaving. “It recognizes the fact that the refugees we work with will be here for a long time,” says Sophia Gebreyes, LWF Country Representative in Ethiopia. “The livelihood project in this protracted refugee situation also offers a steady income. It enables families to have a more dignified life here, and makes the dangerous journey to Europe less attractive.”
Suhai Ismail Abuker, the young girl with the beauty salon, already dreams of opening a shop in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. “I see peace here,” she says. “If there is a possibility, yes, I will stay.”
The livelihoods projects in Jijiga are funded by the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM). The project will be extended for one year starting in September 2017.
By Cornelia Kästner, LWF Office for Communication Services