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Ethiopia: Somali Refugees Flee Fighting and Famine

The intensified fighting between Kenyan forces and the militant group Al Shabab has virtually closed what used to be the main road to relief for Somali refugees. Tens of thousands—fleeing fighting and famine—have instead headed to Ethiopia, itself struggling with the record-setting drought in this region.

The influx has doubled from September to October at the remote Somalia-Ethiopia border post of Dolo Ado. More than 400 people, mostly women and children arrive each day, their needs triaged first by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym, MSF. Many land next in the group’s emergency feeding center to rebuild bodies withered by days-long treks in blistering daytime heat and nights in the open.

Settlement comes next, into four major camps that have been set up in this sprawling arid landscape. A fifth camp is under construction. For aid providers there are myriad concerns and imminent threats: sustaining food and physical security and the donations that are needed to sustain this growing population, now estimated at 135,000. And MSF physician Benjamin Levy isn’t sure he’s seen the end of the influx. Many Somalis, terrified and paralyzed by the conflict, may simply be waiting for the fighting to subside to escape from their drought-stricken homeland.

“The situation is absolutely far from resolved,” he said.

Even the advent of long-awaited rains is a decidedly mixed blessing because they raise the threat of disease outbreaks in a population physically battered by the ordeal to get to the camps.

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