A long-term commitment to refugees and displaced persons

Two women working with sewing machines in Kenya
‘Skills for Life’ teaches vocational skills to refugees and residents of Kakuma in Kenya to enable them to work and earn a living. © Fabian Urech/SDC

The number of people forced to flee their homes worldwide topped 65 million in 2016. Many of these people have been on the move for years or are stuck in refugee camps. Switzerland’s approach in the Middle East and in the Horn of Africa combines the provision of emergency aid and the creation of long-term prospects.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. This quote by young Somali poet Warsan Shire bears witness to the fate of the over 65 million people who are displaced due to wars, conflicts and natural disasters. Some two-thirds of these displaced people still live in their home countries. They do not have the financial means or the freedom to undertake a long journey and are busy just surviving day to day. 

Of the 21 million registered refugees who have crossed a national border, more than half are from one of three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.  The most saddening statistics relate to Syria. This is why the humanitarian crisis in and around that country was also the focus of Switzerland’s humanitarian efforts in 2016. Receiving over CHF 250 million since 2011, it is the SDC’s most extensive humanitarian operation. 

Swiss involvement on behalf of victims of the Syrian crisis, dossier 

Switzerland donates ambulances to Syria's suffering population, SDC project

Although the armed conflict in Syria and the associated refugee crisis are dominating the headlines, the Horn of Africa has been an epicentre of major population displacements for many years. There are a total of 1.8 million refugees and 6.7 million internally displaced persons in Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan. In Somalia alone, 1.1 million people are internally displaced. Political and geographical fragmentation, long-running violent conflicts and the threat of the Al-Shabaab militia make Somalia one of the world’s most fragile countries. 

The world’s largest refugee camp houses Somali refugees and is located in Northern Kenya. With a population of some 340,000, over the past 25 years Dadaab has evolved to become a city the size of Zurich and Kenya’s third largest. An entire generation has been born and grown up in Dadaab. The refugee camp now faces imminent closure. The Kenyan government feels compelled to take this step due to terrorist threats, a lack of security and environmental degradation. 

Humanitarian aid and development cooperation in the Horn of Africa

The example of Dadaab shows that emergency aid for refugees and displaced persons alone is not a long-term solution. In addition to humanitarian aid, development activities are needed to reduce the root causes of migration and to integrate refugees and displaced persons in first countries of asylum. The SDC assumes an innovative leadership role in the Horn of Africa. Since summer 2016 it has been jointly leading the ‘Informal Humanitarian Donor Group Somalia’ with Denmark and advocating a sustainable solution for long-term displaced persons. Two Swiss experts at the office of the UN Resident Coordinator for Somalia are actively working on the integrated approach. 

Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti) 

Where other international actors look away, the SDC takes action. For example, it is supporting the development of national primary healthcare provision in Somalia. At the same time, it brings the traditional humanitarian actors and development organisations to the table and, with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, explores new ways of integrating Somalia’s national healthcare system, which has been funded by humanitarian aid for 25 years, into the country’s national healthcare plans. 

Horn of Africa: two SDC humanitarian workers tell us about their work, article 

To foster the local integration of refugees and displaced people, the SDC also invests in basic education and vocational education and training. Housing 180,000 people, Kakuma in Northern Kenya is also one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Around half of the refugees living there are from South Sudan. “We don’t like it here, but there is nowhere else for us in this world”. These are the words of a Kakuma resident, who sees little hope for the future for herself and her family. In order to counteract this trend and to offer young men and women prospects for a brighter future, the SDC launched the ‘Skills for Life’ project in 2013.

Kakuma: Developing vocational skills in a refugee camp, SDC project

Preventing the root causes of migration is part of Switzerland’s commitment

Besides violent conflicts, migration in the Horn of Africa is also caused by drought and famine. These are often intensified by the recurrent weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña. Ethiopia, for example, was hit by one of the worst droughts in almost 50 years in 2016 as a result of El Niño.  The failure of two successive rainy seasons left well over ten million people dependent on food aid.   

Together with the Ethiopian government, the SDC is investing in the south of the country to renovate water points, reinforce local early warning systems, provide training to women and implement measures to preserve grazing land. “The idea is not only to help people in times of crisis, but to do what we can to prepare them for setbacks,” explains local SDC employee Ababu Lemma Belay. In order to continue to secure development gains in years of crisis, the SDC has integrated an emergency fund in a long-term resilience programme for the first time. The project, which is being implemented by a Swiss NGO and the local government, will improve the management of natural water and land resources and secure long-term incomes and prospects. 

Water supply in Southern Sudan: (Re-)construction during the transition period, SDC project