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Better self-reliance for refugee children through education

With over 420 000 refugees in 18 camps spread over five regions, Ethiopia hosts the largest number of refugees in sub-Saharan Africa after Kenya. The average stay of a refugee in a camp is 17 years. In order to restore dignity, ECHO is focussing on empowering refugees to rely on themselves rather than living entirely off humanitarian assistance.

In early November, the Government of Ethiopia, humanitarian and development donors held round table talks on supporting the education of refugee children affected by conflict and finding innovative solutions to increase the self-reliance of long term refugees.

The meeting was held on the initiative of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Ethiopia, the Humanitarian and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (ECHO) and Save the Children, at a time when the number of refugees in Ethiopia is steadily increasing.

Speaking at the event, Ethiopia’s Head of the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), Ato Ayalew Aweke, observed that the Dolo Ado refugee camps, which host over 200 000 refugees mostly from Somalia, have the lowest rate of school enrolment. Most children arriving in Dolo Ado have never been to school.

“Only 20 percent of children in Dolo Ado are going to school at the primary level,” said Ato Ayalew. “Efforts must be made to address this need because today’s children are tomorrow’s peacemakers, if they are given a good education.”

EU Nobel Peace Prize

The EU is keen on supporting innovative solutions to increase refugees’ self-reliance in protracted refugee crises. Having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for its achievements in peace on the European continent, the EU is using the Prize money and additional funding from ECHO’s humanitarian funds to put over 6 000 children in school in the Dolo Ado camps.

“Self-reliance actions are extremely important especially where durable solutions such as repatriation, resettlement or integration are difficult to implement,” said EU Ambassador Chantal Hebberecht, and added that “investing in education is investing in the future of the people.”


“ECHO in Ethiopia is supporting emergency education, cash transfers and short-term livelihood projects, that are meant to increase self-reliance among refugees,” said Johan Heffinck, the Head of ECHO in Ethiopia. “So far all these initiatives are on a small scale and should be replicated on large scale.”

In Dolo Ado, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), ARRA and partners are concentrating on making systems in the camps more sustainable. Basic services such as food, shelter, water, health, nutrition and protection are considered crucial in most camps, but these services must now be made to last in the long term.

With increased investment in education and vocational training, children and the youth in Dolo Ado will have better chances in life. ECHO is also supporting the construction of semi-permanent shelters, a better water distribution network and voucher pilot projects for diet diversification in order to give refugees in Dolo Ado more dignity.

However, humanitarian donors can only kick-start this process. Development actors must be more involved and contribute to find sustainable solutions to protracted refugee crises.

Legally, in many settings, refugees do not have the right to work and are therefore almost fully reliant on support from aid agencies. In drawn-out refugee crises, prolonged dependency on aid erodes the dignity of the families forced to flee their home countries.

By Martin Karimi
Regional Information Assistant in Nairobi, Kenya

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