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REFUGEE-HOST RELATIONSHIP IN THE HORN OF AFRICA: A CASE OF THE ERITREAN REFUGEES IN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 1002-20]
Ethiopia is currently accommodating close to one million refugees, mainly from Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia, in its 28 camps erected across the country. Out of this figure, close to 200,000 are estimated to be Eritreans and they have settled in six refugee camps. While four camps (Shimelba, Hitsats, Adi Harush, and Mai Ayni) are found in the Tigray regional state, the remaining two (Berhale and Asayita) are located in the Afar regional state. The main objective of this study was to understand the nature of refugee-host relationship with particular reference to the refugees and the hosts that are found in the Tigray regional state. To this effect, data was collected through interview, focus group discussion, document review, and participant observation. The study found that the relationship between the two groups has not been always the same. It has exhibited elements of dynamism across time. Relatively speaking, the initial contact was marred by antagonistic feelings, while now they have developed friendly interactions. For instance, the refugees and hosts are participating in several occasions and sharing different spaces and resources. Internal (the aspiration and attitude of refugees and attitude of the hosts) and external (the role of the government) factors were involved to affect the quality of their relationship and the status of the refugees in the eye of the local hosts. The refugees have brought both benefits (economic and social) and costs (economic, social, and environmental) to the local community. Despite the friendly relations, some of these negative sides of the refugee settlement have become sources of tension and conflict between the two groups, but at an individual level. Accordingly, the study concludes that the Eritrean refugees and the Tigrean local hosts have come to establish cordial relationships at the moment despite past (Ethio-Eritrea war (1998-2000)) and present snags (negative sides of the refugees). The prevailing cordial relationship entails that the positive sides appear to outweigh the negative sides of the refugees. Consequently, ARRA’s mission to see a strong people-to-people relationship between the refugees and the local hosts looks to be working at the moment. Nonetheless, the study also recommends the government and other relevant stakeholders address the negative consequences of the refugee settlement immediately before it is too late.