Last Updated: Friday, 08 December 2017, 11:58 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Djibouti

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Djibouti, 1 January 1997, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Some 22,000 refugees were living in Djibouti at year's end, including about 20,000 from Somalia and approximately 2,000 from Ethiopia. About 10,000 Djiboutians were believed to be refugees in Ethiopia. An estimated 25,000 Djiboutians were internally displaced.

Djiboutian Refugees Members of the country's Afar clan began an armed insurgency in 1991 against the government, controlled by the Issa clan. A 1993 government military offensive regained significant rebel-held territory and pushed up to 15,000 Djiboutians into temporary exile in neighboring Ethiopia. More than 100,000 persons became internally displaced.

About half of the Djiboutian refugees returned home in 1993. Fighting continued in early 1994 when the government resumed its offensive against the insurgents, known as the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD). The offensive reportedly included widespread human rights atrocities.

The two sides signed a peace agreement in December 1994. FRUD indicated it would encourage refugees to return to their places of origin in Djibouti, and the government pledged to rehabilitate areas damaged during the war. Isolated armed skirmishes persisted in 1995 despite the formation of a coalition government. A faction of FRUD opposed to the peace agreement reportedly prolonged the violence.

Estimates of the number of Djiboutian refugees varied from 5,000 to 18,000, all in Ethiopia. A signed agreement between the governments of Djibouti and Ethiopia prepared the groundwork for the refugees' return home, but no significant repatriation was reported during 1996. Refugees reportedly hesitated to repatriate because they regarded their home areas of northern Djibouti to be unsafe, and government soldiers allegedly occupied the homes of many refugees.

Somali and Ethiopian Refugees Djibouti's location bordering Somalia and Ethiopia has attracted refugees ever since the country gained independence in 1977. Djibouti has a checkered history of alternately assisting, harassing, and forcibly expelling refugees.

The actual number of refugees in Djibouti has long been a matter of dispute. The government has historically claimed that tens of thousands of refugees were living in the capital, Djiboutiville, despite government efforts to confine them to rural camps. UNHCR has regarded many Somalis and Ethiopians in the capital as economic migrants rather than refugees.

About 80 percent of the refugees who remained in Djibouti at the end of 1996 lived in three designated rural camps. The rest lived in Djiboutiville. Government authorities transferred several hundred refugees from the capital to the camps during the year.

Most Somali refugees arrived during 1988-90 because of civil war in their own country. Many initially moved in with relatives in the capital or inhabited shanty towns on the outskirts of the city. The government subsequently transferred many to camps. No Somalis repatriated from Djibouti under UNHCR auspices in 1996, but some might have repatriated on their own without going through official procedures.

Estimates about the size of the Ethiopian refugee population remained particularly controversial at year's end, ranging from as few as 1,000 to as many as 40,000, according to various sources.

UNHCR initiated an organized repatriation program for Ethiopians in late 1994. About 32,000 repatriated during 1994-95, the majority by train. About 4,000 more repatriated in early 1996. UNHCR provided transportation to refugees' places of origin in Ethiopia, plus repatriation grants of $30 in local currency.

Amnesty International charged that Djibouti's authorities forcibly returned up to eight Ethiopians to Ethiopia late in the year. One of the deportees was reportedly a refugee; the refugee status of the other seven individuals was unclear.

Search Refworld