Tough Neighborhood

A couple days ago I shared a bit about my own corner of the world, life on quiet little Ten Hovestraat, in This Little Straat of Mine.

Today we’re going to head further south, all the way to Ethiopia, for a guest post from Tracey Buckenmeyer.

I ‘cyber met’ Tracey through fellow expat and guest blogger, Gry Tina Tinde, thus making Tracey an online friend of an online friend. Tracey has made a career of helping refugees and displaced persons, working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In a future guest post I hope that Tracey will share a bit about what she does and sees on a daily basis, but first she’s going to give us a tour of her neighborhood. When you’re finished reading it, I’m sure you won’t take peace and stability for granted ever again.

I know I sure don’t.

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Tough Neighborhood

by Tracey Buckenmeyer

I live in a tough neighborhood. Well, I live in Ethiopia which is smack in the middle of that ‘hood. Landlocked, the country is surrounded by five other east African states, all of them producing refugees for one reason or another.

That’s right, all of them.

Which is why I am here. I work for the UN Refugee Agency which is tasked by the international community to ‘protect’ and assist refugees, and ultimately help them fo home or somewhere else that is safe.

So where exactly is my neighborhood?

Map of Ethiopia


Let’s take a tour, starting in the north on the border with Eritrea.

Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until a 1993 referendum split the two, and relations between the two countries have been tense ever since.

The region of Tigray has received Eritrean refugees over the years, mostly young men fleeing forced conscription and a generally repressive regime.

Moving a little east, between Tigray and Djibouti is a place called Alamata where there are more Eritrean refugees. These refugees are of Afar ethnicity who joined their brethren here (the referendum having split their traditional community in two) after leaving Eritrea for the same reasons as the refugees further north.

Directly to the east is my alma mater of Jijiga. This region hosts the legacy refugees from the Somali civil war, now entering its third decade. I started my UN career here 20 years ago, which at the time was the largest refugee operation in the world.

Jijiga was ground zero for nearly one million Somali refugees in 1991, a title soon to be taken away by the Balkan Wars. The number have done down; the refugees from northern Somalia, now called Somaliland, have been able to return. But those from the southern parts of Somalia are still here, waiting for peace in that most failed of failed states.

Heading south is Dollo Ado, a region receiving the latest influx of Somali refugees fleeing drought and the Al Shabat, an affiliate group of Al Qaeda. Ethiopia has received almost 150,000 refugees here while another 500,000 refugees fled to Kenya. With the rains continuing to fail and the Al Shabat continuing its aggression, it’s not likely these people can return home any time soon.

Continuing southwesterly are scattered clusters of Kenyan refugees that no one seems to know what to do with. They fled to Ethiopia due to some quirky political events in Kenya, but it’s expected to be just a temporary relocation.


Following the western border with Sudan, actually the new nation of the Republic of South Sudan, is Gambella. This region used to host another legacy caseload, Sudanese refugees from that decades-old civil war. While many went home after the peace agreement in 2005 and the referendum in 2011 which created the new state, residual tension and clan infighting keeps people crossing into Ethiopia for safety.

North of here but still on the border with Sudan – that is, north Sudan – is Assosa. This region receives Sudanese refugees from the lingering conflict over the referendum, with splinter groups still fighting over territory and policies.

Ethiopia accepts them all and we, UNHCR, along with many other aid agencies, help them the best we can.

Welcome to my neighborhood.

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Refugees desperately need your help. If you’d like to contribute, here’s the link for UNHCR donations.


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