1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. East Africa
  4. Djibouti

Hard life for Somali refugees in Ali Addeh camp

Ali Addeh refugee camp, 130km south of Djiboutiville, capital of Djibouti
Ali Addeh refugee camp was established in 1991 for a population of about 7,000. It is currently home to 14,333 refugees, 13,748 of whom are Somalis (Abdi Hassan/IRIN)

Amina Ahmed Barre, a Somali refugee, sews clothes on her sewing machine out in the open, in temperatures of more than 30 degrees. There is not a tree in sight in the camp that houses more than 14,000 refugees.

Barre is one of the earliest residents of the Ali Addeh refugee camp, 130km south of Djibouti-Ville, capital of Djibouti. She supplements her aid donations by sewing clothes for other refugees.

Barre arrived at the camp with her parents in 1991 when she was only eight years old. They had fled the Somali capital, Mogadishu, after chaos erupted following the ouster of President Siyad Barre.

"I’m now 29 years old with children of my own and most of my life has been spent in a refugee camp," Barre told IRIN. "I did not choose to be here, I was forced to be here. It is getting harder and harder to have hope that my children and I will leave here. I don't want to die here. Not knowing your future is the hardest part."

Such is the life of many refugees in Ali Addeh, a camp administered by the Djibouti agency for refugees and natural disasters, known by its French acronym, ONARS, which is funded by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. The camp was originally designed for 7,000 people but, since January 2010, houses 14,333 refugees, 13,748 of whom are Somalis.

Previously, Djibouti had three camps but after the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Somalia's self-declared republic of Somaliland in 2006, the government closed down two, leaving Ali Addeh for the remaining Somalis.

New arrivals

Abdirahman Ahmed Dahir, the deputy camp administrator, said more and more Somali refugees had arrived in the country, many having walked hundreds of kilometres. "Every week we get between 120 and 130 refugees, mostly from southern Somalia."

UNHCR has requested the government of Djibouti to reopen one of the closed camps to accommodate the rising numbers.

Amina Ahmed Barre, Somali refugee in Djibouti

Amina Ahmed Barre works at her sewing machine at the Ali Addeh refugee camp in Djibouti
Abdi Hassan/IRIN
Amina Ahmed Barre, Somali refugee in Djibouti
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Amina Ahmed Barre, "Not knowing your future is the hardest part"...
Amina Ahmed Barre, Somali refugee in Djibouti

Photo: Abdi Hassan/IRIN
Amina Ahmed Barre sews a garment at the refugee camp

"Due to the increasing number of refugees living in Ali Addeh camp and the poor living conditions around the camp - drought as well as lack of water - UNHCR requested the Djibouti government to re-open the Holl-Holl refugee camp, which was closed in 2006 following massive repatriations of Somali refugees in Somaliland," said Charlemagne Kekou Akan, the associate reporting and external relations officer for UNHCR in Djibouti.

Kekou Akan said the government's response had been positive and "the official reallocation of Holl-Holl to accommodate refugees is expected to be carried out very soon".


ONARS and UNHCR provide tools to help refugees set up income-generating activities. Some are trained as health workers while Barre and other seamstresses received training and sewing machines.

Faisal Hassan teaches English in the camp school. He fled Mogadishu in 1996. "It took us almost a month, through Ethiopia, to get to Djibouti."

Hassan first settled in the Holl-Holl refugee camp but when it was closed, he moved to Ali Addeh.

He said the biggest problem he and the other refugees faced was the "uncertainty" of refugee life.

"I don't know if I or even my two daughters will ever go back to Somalia," Hassan said. Some refugees have been in Djibouti for 20 years.

Starting again

"There are three durable solutions proposed by UNHCR: repatriation, which is currently not feasible for those from southern Somalia; local integration in the host community, and resettlement in a third country,” Periklis Kortsaris, a senior protection officer for UNHCR, told IRIN.

Most camp residents expressed hope of starting life anew in resettlement countries, such as the USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Australia.

According to Kekou Akan, refugees expressed their resettlement concerns to the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, when he visited the camp in December 2010.

In 2010, UNHCR submitted 1,400 profiles for resettlement consideration but only 317 refugees were successful, among them 81 Somalis and the balance Eritreans and Ethiopians.

“The High Commissioner promised that UNHCR would continue to request more and more places from the resettlement countries," Kekou Akan said. He cautioned however: "All the refugees cannot be resettled."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policy-makers and humanitarians, provide accountability and transparency over those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all. 

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian


Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.