|Me at Sheder Camp, Ethiopia.|
June 20 is World Refugee Day, dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.
With news of hundreds of migrants risking death each year in the Mediterranean Sea and the Rohingya crisis in our Southeast Asian waters, the wars in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and other African countries, the refugee question now, more than ever, needs to be highlighted and addressed not only by world leaders and humanitarians but everyone.
The number of displaced people worldwide has breached the 50 million mark, according to the UN Refugee Agency report in June 2014. That’s one in 133 people and 0.75 percent of the world population. That’s about half the Philippine population, being forced to leave their homes.
More than 15 million of those displaced are refugees, persons forced out of their country of origin and who are unwilling or unable to return there or to avail themselves of its protection because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; or a threat to life or security as a result of armed conflict and other forms of widespread violence which seriously disturb the public order. (UNHCR, 2007) With wars and unrest raging in more parts in the world, these numbers are projected to increase more and more each year.
The best embodiment of the refugee crisis is perhaps the “refugee camp”, rows and rows of sad-looking UNCHR tents in dusty borders. These camps in no man’s lands best express the biggest refugee affliction – being rendered homeless. Country-less. Future-less.
Refugee camps are halfway houses, meant to shelter refugees temporarily while their countries are still at strife, but in reality, some, if not most, of them have become new permanent settlements
This is the dilemma of housing refugees. Permanent housing solution is still discouraged, even though the camps are more than twenty years old, because the priority is still to return these refugees safely to their homeland or resettle them in a third country, both takes a political solution.
Most old-timer refugee camps have since been populated by permanent structures, of course, unacknowledged (hence, called transitional shelters) but where elsewhere, a house is a family’s symbol of success, dignity, at a refugee camp, having a house (as opposed to a tent) may give a family a semblance of security and stability, that does not strip away the fact that they are still refugees. Homeless. Country-less. Future-less.
I had a chance to see first-hand what this means.* No words can express how I felt. But there are pictures.
*I am currently co-investigating with a colleague in Dire Dawa University (at its Institute of Technology where I am volunteering under VSO or Voluntary Service Overseas as a Guest Professor) an architectural research project entitled “Developing Shelter Prototypes for Somali Refugees in Ethiopia), where we aim to design and develop a “transitional shelter” prototype for the Somali refugees in Sheder Camp (two hours off the city Jijiga, the capital of the Ethiopian Somali Region, which borders Somalia) that is architecturally sound, structurally stable, and culturally appropriate. Jijiga is about 3 hours away by bus from Dire Dawa. This was our first official field visit to Sheder Camp.
Sheder was mostly unpopulated before its conversion into a refugee camp in 2008. It accommodates refugees mostly from the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
The bus-type tent is the Somalis’ bigger semi-permanent brother of the buul. Packed and reassembled elsewhere, with camels as its wheels, it is the Somali’s answer to the RV (a foldable RV, that is).
On our way out of the camp, I asked for a picture with a bus-type shelter we passed by, but this guy wanted in, too.
I came to the Sheder Refugee Camp teeming with ideas on how to create better shelter solutions for refugees. I walked away thinking a better shelter sure helps, but that is no solution. I cannot help ease the refugee crises. No, not really. Rebuilding Somalia back into a peaceful society is the ultimate solution. But only the Somalis themselves can do that.