Lete Isayas, a refugee from Eritrea, sifts cereals outside her shelter in Alemwach refugee site in Ethiopia. (Image © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno)
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Funding Crisis Threatens Assistance to One Million Refugees

ADDIS ABABA – Aid agencies in Ethiopia sounded the alarm on an unprecedented funding crisis jeopardizing assistance to close to one million refugees in the country.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Ethiopian Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) along with over 130 aid agencies issued the warning in a statement on Monday, saying refugees risk limited assistance due to insufficient funding.

They called humanitarian and development partners for “increased support to bolster the response and provide much-needed assistance to those in greatest need.”

Currently, Ethiopia is sheltering more than a million refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly from neighboring countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Efforts to provide durable solutions to the refugees and host communities are being challenged by insufficient and inconsistent support.

“It is disheartening to witness the impact of underfunding on refugees because the level of needs far outweighs the resources available,” said Teyiba Hassen, Director General of Ethiopia’s Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS).

“International support is crucial to enable the government to continue to make good on our commitment to continue hosting refugees and asylum seekers,” she added.

Children Dropping Out of School

The education sector stands out as one of the hardest hit by insufficient funding, with only half of school-aged refugee children currently attending school.

“When the teachers don’t come, students also miss out on school and engage in other activities,” lamented Gatchew, a 23-year-old student in Gambella.

Overcrowded classrooms and up to 80 percent of children drop out of school after their primary education compounded the challenges.

Without additional funding, salaries for most primary and secondary education teachers will go unpaid, leading to the closure of schools in 23 refugee locations.

The Crisis also Hit the Health Sector

The provision of other basic services, healthcare in particular, has also been affected by the dwindling funding.

Hinda, a Somali refugee in Mirqaan refugee settlement, said: “The hospital here does not have medicine, so we have to pay expensive transport fees to travel far away to get medication or even sell our food to be able to afford medicine for our children.”

Lack of essential medicines and medical equipment continues to hamper aid agencies’ ability to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks, resulting in twice as many preventable deaths among refugees in 2023.

Reliable Funding Needed

“It is evident that the shortage of funding is already worsening refugees’ lives despite their ever-increasing needs, but also the lives of the host communities who are generously hosting them,” said Andrew Mbogori, UNHCR’s Representative in Ethiopia.

Agencies responding to the refugee crisis say they remain committed to working together to find durable solutions.

“But without reliable funding, UNHCR, RRS and partners will not be able to provide lifesaving assistance to refugees and will be hindered from ensuring refugees and host communities access basic services and socio-economic opportunities, so to advance solutions from the start” added Mbogori.

The UNHCR continues to appeal for donor support to improve living conditions for refugees, investments to provide national services and bolster community resilience, as well as peaceful co-existence with the host community.