“The Ethiopians are very generous”

08.09.2011 - Interview

Human Rights Commissioner praises humanitarian aid for drought refugees

Interview with Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, on Deutschlandradio Kultur on 8 September 2011.

More than twelve million people are suffering in a famine in East Africa, and the situation is expected to further deteriorate in the coming months. The most affected country is Somalia, which many people are fleeing for Kenyaor Ethiopia. However, droughts never end at national borders. Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, has travelled to Ethiopiaon a fact-finding mission.Good morning, Mr Löning!

Good morning!

You have visited, among other places, the Dolo Ado refugee camp. Are conditions there similar to the catastrophic situation in the Dadaab camp in Kenya?

In Dolo Ado, there are several refugee camps, spread across the entire region. Dolo Ado itself is a very small town with some 10,000 inhabitants, located directly on the border to Somalia. I visited the border crossing there where people first meet aid workers and are registered, where they receive bracelets, and where family members are reunited. Next, they are transported to the refugee camps, which are situated some 30, 40 or 50 km from the border. This is important because they need to feel safe from attacks.

I personally visited one of these camps, it is a new camp that is being built and is named Halloween. It currently provides shelter for approx. 16,000 refugees. I spoke with families, visited their medical treatment facilities, and saw the great things the Federal Agency for Technical Relief has accomplished there. However, it is heartbreaking to hear women tell about how they were on the road for weeks, with three, four or five children, and how they are now quite – well, happy is probably not the right word – I should say relieved that they have finally arrived, and that they now have enough to eat and drink, also for their children, and have initial medical care.

Once you return, you will want to transform your impressions into actual policy. Where will you begin?

Concerning the situation, there are two things to bear in mind: first, one must say that the Ethiopians are very generous, they have no problems at all with allowing these people into their country; they are providing land for the camps and are doing what they can, with their limited resources, to help the refugees. This is generous, it is also bighearted: just think of the almost ridiculous debates at home over a few North African refugees. We must give them credit for that.

Second, International Organizations are doing much to help, the aid effort is running smoothly, UNHCR is professionally handling the relief work, in concert with many international NGOs. The international community is cooperating well in this respect. Germany, too, is involved. The Federal Foreign Office for example is providing more than two million euro for this refugee camp alone. So the first thing that is needed is of course money to support the international UN organization, to help build these camps. This is the first political priority. We must provide enough funds.

But money alone will not solve the problems. The political situation in the region must also be addressed, for example in Somalia, but also in Sudan. An entire Sudanese city is said to have fled to Ethiopia. In your opinion, what lies ahead in this conflict?

From right here, it is very difficult to say where the conflict in Sudan is headed. I call upon the parties to the conflict in Sudan to continue the political process. So far, there is progress to report. South Sudan has held a referendum on independence. The official declaration of independence in July also went well and has been peaceful. It speaks to the successful engagement of the international community, and in particular of the neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, that this process has been peaceful so far.

That is why I urge the parties to the conflict to continue down the path of peace. South Sudan has enough resources to guarantee a good life for its citizens. But for this there must of course be peace! The same holds true for Somalia. There, we need a political process, which is now under way. We Germans would of course also lend our support to this process, but primary responsibility lies with Somaliaitself, and naturally also with its direct neighbours.

What kind of assistance can Germany, and the international community, provide -both as regards the conflicts and, of course, the drought? Considering that the last rain fell in 2009, it is obvious that people will at some point have a difficult time providing for their livestock and cultivating their land.

As far as the drought is concerned, we cannot make it rain, but I think it is also important to point out again and again that drought is only part of the problem. It is what triggered the famine. But the women I spoke with here in Ethiopia say they also fled from the threat of violence by al-Shabaab. So the country is plagued by drought and by the threat of political violence.

We Germans must humbly admit that we have very little influence in these countries, particularly in Somalia and in South Sudan. We should not delude ourselves.

What we must do is send a clear signal to the East Africans who are attempting to become politically involved, and hereby I mean first and foremost the Ethiopians, but not only the Ethiopians: we will stand by your side, we will support you, if you manage to move forward this political process, if you can create pressure in these countries, and create incentives for the establishment of a political process. Then, we stand ready to assist in the creation of such a state, by providing whatever may be needed.

We have just spoken with Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, who is currently travelling in Ethiopia. Thank you for your impressions and for your assessment of the situation. Have a good flight back to Germany.

Thank you very much.

The questions were posed by Ute Welty. Reproduced by kind permission of Deutschlandradio Kultur.

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