Ethiopia: Few men or women, thousands of children
With my clearance from the Ethiopian government and camera in hand, I began my visit to the refugee camps in Dollo Ado.
Visiting the pre-registration and transit centers I knew I was going to come across some of the thousands of refugees who have fled the desperate situation in Somalia- these centres are the door through which the refugees from there enter Ethiopia.
Although I was prepared for the vast numbers of refugees, I was unprepared for the sheer number of children. As I scanned the area I noted some women, very few men and thousands of children.
As I spoke to these children it became apparent that many of the children had travelled for days, often without one or even both of their parents.
These new arrivals were visibly shaken from the ordeal of leaving home and making the treacherous journey to a new and unknown country.
In Britain, allowing a young child to walk to school on their own would be a concern. These children cross dangerous country borders with no protection or food.
Terror on their faces
I couldn’t avoid the look of unreserved terror on their faces. The uncertainty about what lay ahead and the large crowds gathering must have been unimaginably intimidating for these young children who had left everything behind in Somalia.
Most had never ventured outside their villages, and were obviously tired and hungry. The long journey without food and water has taken everything from them.
Having witnessed the first stage in the children’s journey, I moved onto the transit centre. This is a smaller camp where refugees complete their registration process and await the allocation of shelter in one of the main camps.
There was an unmistakable difference in the children at the transit centre- seeming more reassured and at peace in the new surroundings.
They were playful and loud, and were happily eating their meals. The children at the pre-registration center didn’t even seem to have the energy to eat.
Despite the fact that living conditions in the camps are difficult, I could sense that people were happy to have finally reached a place where they were safe and where food was available.
Save the Children teams
It seems that the decision of over 120,000 people to leave behind their homes and belongings, travel on foot for several days and cross the border into Ethiopia was the right one.
People from different regions bought together by desperate conditions, were living with each other in the most difficult circumstances. Something I found inspiring.
Meeting the Save the Children teams at the pre-registration and transit centers made me even more aware of how important our work is.
These children receive comfort and solace during the greatest upheaval they will have to endure. It became very clear that as well as continuing this work, we need to expand our work to do all we can to help these children in such desperate need.
This post was written by Khurram Masood, Communications Officer, Ethiopia