Ethiopian singer and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s, supporter Betty G recently visited Melkadida in Ethiopia’s Somali Region where she met with some of the 219,284 Somali refugees and their Ethiopian hosts. The refugees and their Ethiopian hosts live and work together under innovative business schemes that are bringing economic benefits to both communities and helping to strengthen the bond between them.
In Melkadida, a camp of about 35,000 refugees, Betty G visited a furniture workshop owned and run by a Somali refugee, Musa Yussuf Burey. Musa hires both refugees and Ethiopians in his workshop where they produce and sell cupboards, shelves, beds and chairs to the two communities. Musa told the Ethiopian celebrity that his business is doing well and that he no longer depends on humanitarian aid for his family’s sustenance.
“I’m now able to feed and provide a better education to my children and have a plan to help fellow refugees to become productive like me”, said the middle-aged father of five who is already mulling the option of expanding his business to include an icecream shop and a construction materials store. “By hiring Ethiopian workers and supplying the local market with furniture which would otherwise be purchased and transported from far away, Musa is positively contributing to the local economy in Melkadida,”Betty G said, adding that his story challenges the perception that refugees are a burden to their hosts. She also visited a cold drinks shop providing water, soft drinks and juices and where people go to watch live European football on tv at night. Hibo Abdi, the owner of the shop, told Betty G that she has a good number of customers from the refugee and host communities and is now able to provide for her family.
“I can give my four children three meals a day and have some extra money for their clothing,” said Hibo who runs the business with her husband’s support. In the Dollo Ado Woreda, Betty G visited a teachers’ training college constructed by UNHCR with funding from the IKEA Foundation. The college provides young refugees and Ethiopians with the opportunity to become professionally qualified teachers and to help shape the next generation of students in the region.
The impetus for these and many other small businesses in the region comes from a microfinance project, funded by the Ikea Foundation which has invested US$100 million over the last seven years to help refugees and Ethiopians thrive together. Musa and Hibo borrowed ETB 22,575 (US$787) and 20,000 (US$697), respectively, from the three-year old financial institution and have already paid back their debts, with the option to borrow more based on viable business expansion plans.
“What is happening in Melkadida is what the world wants to achieve under the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), adopted by the UN General Assembly last December,” says UNHCR Representative Clementine Nkweta Salami. “The GCR calls for inclusion of refugees in communities where they reside and greater global support for countries like Ethiopia that continue to welcome and host them”.
The UNHCR Representative also praised Ethiopia for its progressive refugee law that was adopted by the country’s Parliament in January this year and allows refugees to obtain work permits, access primary education, and national financial services, such as banking, among other rights.
“The microfinance institution is a good way to fuel development in this remote rural location with no access to major financial services such as banks,” Betty G said, and called for more international support to promote joint refugee-host community business projects and help the two communities thrive together. The Melkadida area in the Somali region of Ethiopia hosts more than 200,000 Somali refugees in five camps and has been successfully implementing innovative livelihoods projects benefitting both refugees and their host communities .(UNHCR)