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  • on 30.11.2015
  • at 01:05 PM
  • by Kimberley Evans

The Biggest African Refugee Camp No One Talks About 0

On a sunny November day in Addis Ababa the courtyard of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) centre is packed with people—some attend a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reception clinic, others get essential supplies, while students attend classes, and many simply play volleyball, table football or dominoes to pass the time.

Benyamin told IPS he came to Ethiopia from Yemen because practising his religion freely just wasn’t an option. After converting from Islam to the Jewish faith, he was put in a psychiatric hospital. “If I’d been sent to court I could have been put to death,” Benyamin adds phlegmatically.

Guilain, 35, from Guinea in West Africa, has lived in Ethiopia for 11 years, while two years ago his wife and daughter managed to enter the United States, where he hopes to join them—eventually.

“I miss them but I must keep my heart intact, so I can’t think about it too much,” Guilain told IPS. While he remains in Ethiopia, Guilain has formed a seven-member band of fellow Guineans who practise in the JRS’s small music room. “The music gives me hope. I am happy when I come here; you see people enjoying themselves—it helps you to forget.”

Now in its 20th year, the JRS compound resembles a microcosm of Africa’s—and even the Middle East’s—troubles, hosting refugees from South Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Burundi and more. It aims to assist 1,700 people in 2015, Hanna Petros, the centre’s director, told IPS.

While many European countries bemoan the arrival of refugees, developing countries host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, according to a 2013 UNHCR Global Trends report. Ethiopia hosts about 680,000 refugees, the largest number of any African country.

Often these countries already struggle to respond to the needs of their own populations and are reluctant to allow refugees to study, work or move freely within their territories.

There is an increasing awareness in the international community that while global inequality continues, and failed states fester, refugees will continue moving to perceived better alternatives—with numbers quite possibly increasing, unless those inequalities and conditions that create refugees are dealt with effectively.

But there’s also increasing consensus that finding solutions to such complex and geographically dispersed problems could prove one of the world’s major vexations for the foreseeable future.

“You just have to accept you can’t help with everything,” a UNHCR worker at the JRS reception clinic, who has worked in Ethiopia for eight years, told IPS. “If you don’t accept that then you can easily get overwhelmed by it all. It’s basically like social work; you have to keep your emotions separate.”

Inside the JRS library, Ethiopian teacher Endrias Kacharo gives a lesson to teenage students on the values of leadership. “It helps them deal with their situations and being totally stuck, by thinking about what they can do and how to empower themselves,” Endrias told IPS.

Continue reading on IPS News

by James Jeffrey

Photo credits IPS News/James Jeffrey

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