UNHCR and its partners support Somali refugees in two locations in the Somali region - Jijiga and Melkadida. The population in Jijiga comprises individuals who sought asylum in Ethiopia in the early 1990s and those who arrived between 2006 and 2008, while most individuals in Melkadida have been in the region for approximately eight years. Crop failures, loss of livestock, and extortion by Al-Shabab groups have driven thousands of Somali farmers and pastoralists to abandon their land and seek refuge in neighboring Ethiopia. The Jijiga operation provides humanitarian assistance to 39,294 refugees in Aw-barre, Sheder, and Kebribeyah camps. The Somali refugee population in Melkadida stands at 161,493 individuals as of 30 June 2020, as compared to 154,489 by end of 2019, and reside in six camps, namely Melkadida, Bokomanyo, Kobe, Buramino, Hilaweyn, and Dollo Ado.
The delivery of services and engagement with refugee communities in the camps has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR and partners in Jijiga have joined the regional COVID-19 Prevention and Response Taskforce, and have taken measures such as awareness-raising campaigns, construction, and equipment of isolation centers and material support for the quarantine centers. Similarly, the Melkadida operation has amplified its measures to respond to COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of services to Persons of Concern (PoCs) by launching new initiatives such as a protection helpline for refugees. To mitigate the potential negative impact of the pandemic on the local economy, innovative pilot projects including a ‘COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Package’ and one-off cash grants for the most vulnerable refugees and host community members were developed and will be implemented in the second half of the year. Humanitarian partners have also supported local authorities through the procurement of medical equipment and the provision of a temporary vehicle for COVID-19 surveillance.
Both operations have prioritized COVID-19 response activities to ensure that refugees are included in the Ministry of Health's regional and local preparedness and response plans. An inter-agency Epidemic Preparedness and Response Plan has been finalized jointly with the Somali Regional State. Moreover, the desert locust swarms and seasonal rains in the area have also adversely impacted crop production in both areas and have consequent socio-economic implications for the refugees and their hosts. These challenges coupled with the current pandemic compelled UNHCR and its partners to reallocate resources to respond to the needs of persons of concern.