By Suleyman Ali
The UN High Commissioner (HC) for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi attended a commemoration of World Refugee Day in Gambella region on June 20 in Nguenyyiel South Sudanese refugee camp.
This year the HC has decided to mark the day in Ethiopia as the country is home to the second largest refugee population in Africa. UNHCR’s decision is regarded as recognition of Ethiopia’s acclaimed open-door refugee policy and the policy commitments it has pledged to implement at the leaders’ summit on refugees held last September in New York in which Ethiopia has shown international solidarity to the realization of these policy commitments to improve refugee lives.
Upon arrival at Gambella airport a day earlier, he was welcomed by the President of Gambella regional state, Mr. Gat-luak Tut and ARRA Deputy Director, Ato Zeynu Jemal. Since taking office last year, Grandi’s visit was his second to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He first came in February 2016 a month after being sworn in as the High Commissioner.
Part of the commemoration on the following day, he visited humanitarian activities and meeting refugees as he toured the camp. Refugees and members of the hosting community turned out in great numbers to welcome the HC and distinguished guests. They visited some camp facilities and interacted with refugees in order to understand their living conditions.
Earlier in the day, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the FDRE, Dr. Workineh Gebeyehu joined the HC for the rest of the day’s celebration.
In remarks by the Foreign Minister, Dr. Workineh reiterated his government’s commitment in the support of refugees as Ethiopia has made significant pledges during the leader’s summit in New York when Ethiopia made the nine policy commitments to significantly improve refugee lives.
Ethiopia’s message of solidarity with refugees was later reaffirmed in Ato Zeynu Jemal’s speech as he highlighted ARRA’s organizational commitment and coordination with partners to improve refugee lives.
Zeynu said his organization will lead any innovative plans in line with the government’s policy commitments for the betterment of refugee lives. He also expressed his readiness to working together with partners and the donor community in facilitating protection and assistance delivery to refugees.
The HC , on his part lauded Ethiopia’s long-established hospitality to refugees. He voiced his concurrence with ARRA Deputy’s remarks mentioning Ethiopia as a country which never gave up on refugees- a country that never felt tired receiving refugees, in particular South Sudanese since 1981 and still welcoming them in hundreds of thousands. The HC, in his remarks, mentioned Ethiopia as a country that sets the best example in hosting refugees in Africa.
The African Union(AU) representative, Mr. Simeon Oyono Esono, Chair of the AU PRC Sub- Committee on Refugees, (Ambassador of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea) came with an announcement of a modest donation of 100,000 USD to UNHCR to support the activities of ARRA as a gesture of solidarity of Africa with South Sudanese refugees in Gambella.
He mentioned the AU’s long history of commitment in the support of refugees and displaced persons since the adoption of the then OAU refugee convention in 1969 and the more recent Kampla convention on IDPs.
The Gambella Regional State President, Ato Gat Luak Tut, took the opportunity to express his administration’s support to refugee works in the region and urged the donor community to make sure the local hosting populations also benefit from refugee interventions.
Refugee representatives on their part requested for more assistance while thanking the Ethiopian government and its people for their generosity for letting them settle in Ethiopia’s territory. “We are here free from being killed or face any violence. We are enjoying the peace this government has bestowed to us”, said a refugee women representative from the Somali community who spoke on behalf of all women refugees. “I am hoping that UNHCR and all of you attending here will do all in your power to improve our lives for the better”, added a representative from the South Sudanese refugee community as he highlighted the challenges of refugees living in camps.
Part of the activities marking the day included cultural dancing by the host South Sudanese refugees, and a cultural show representing all the major seven nationalities living in Ethiopia as they passed by the distinguished guests thanking all for their continued support. Media crew from various local and international outlets covered the event largely.
Also part of the series of the WRD commemoration on June 21 included a handover of deeds by the mayor of Addis Ababa Ato Diriba Kuma to the HC Mr. Filippo Grandi and a subsequent stone-laying ceremony for the construction of UNHCR’s Representation Office in Addis Ababa
The United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. The day honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.
The Gambella refugee camps are home to more than 365,000 South Sudanese refugees hosted in seven locations in the region