Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

Ethiopia: Treatment of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 9 April 2001
Citation / Document Symbol ETH36663.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ethiopia: Treatment of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia, 9 April 2001, ETH36663.E, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
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.

According to Amnesty International,

more than 300 OLF fighters captured by Ethiopian troops in Somalia in early 1999 were taken to Ethiopia and detained in Ziwai ... many people were arrested on suspicion of involvement with armed opposition groups, particularly the OLF ... hundreds of ethnic Somalis were reportedly arrested for alleged links with the ONLF. Iid Dahir Farah, president of the Somali Region Assembly, was arrested in September and was still held without charge at the end of 1999 ... up to 10,000 people detained in previous years, mostly suspected of supporting Oromo or Somali armed opposition groups remained in detention without charge or trial but with access to ICRC ... there was no progress in the trial of 285 OLF fighters held in Ziwai since 1992 (2000).

In 2000, Country Reports states that "there was no action taken or investigation into reports that in August 1999 security forces fired on a group of Somalis who were protesting the military's occupation of a Somali border town, killing two persons" (2001).

Mebrek, an "Ethiopian weekly independent newspaper," reports that in October 2000, in Arero District of Borena Zone in southern Ethiopia, the district administrator had accused Somalis in the region of "robbery and rustling" and called for their expulsion (10 Oct. 2000). After the "utterances, the Borena and Guji communities ganged up against the ethnic Somalis and attacked them, killing, at least, 200 people and wounding over a double that number" (ibid.).

Several sources report the situation in the Somali region has been characterized by uneasy relations between the Ethiopian government and the Somali region for the past 30 years, and recently, by fighting, insecurity, drought, malnourishment, disaster, and repression against ethnic Somalis (AI 2000; Minorities at Risk Aug. 1997-June 1998; IRIN 2 Jan. 2001; Mebrek 10 Oct. 2000; ANN 30 Nov. 2000).

According to the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN),

the EPRDF found it difficult to establish itself in the Somali region, which remains one of the most unstable areas in the country. A strong military presence has remained in the Ethiopian Ogaden area, and has provoked accusations of repression and abuse, documented by international and local human rights organisations. In Kebri Dehar, an Ogadeni stronghold, local and international sources told IRIN in November 2000 that the bodies of suspected rebels caught and killed by government soldiers were sometimes left outside the garrison until they rotted. Relatives were too scared to collect or identify the bodies, said the sources ...

Although the Somali population in Ethiopia is relatively small – about

3.5 million – the territory it occupies is significant in that it borders on

Somalia and is used by armed opposition groups, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the ONLF. The Oromos, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, are linguistically and culturally related to Somalis and comprise both Christians and Muslims. According to the Ethiopian government, many elements of the armed opposition in the Ethiopian Somali region are "Islamic fundamentalists" ... The new Ethiopian government of 1991 pursued an increasingly militaristic option in the Somali region – much like previous regimes ... heavy military presence has since remained in the Somali region, particularly in the Ogaden, and is used to control domestic insurrection, as well as launch military operations along the common border and into southern Somalia (2 Jan.2001).

According to the Minorities Project at the Centre for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM) in Washington, DC,

Ethnic Somalis live mainly in Eastern Ethiopia in Somali Regional National State. Somali State includes the Ogaden which has been an area with secessionist tendencies since Somali independence in 1960 ... since independence, ethnic Somalis have been organized in a number of political and military organizations which pressed for greater autonomy for the Ogaden and/or a greater say in the Ethiopian government. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) operated in eastern Ethiopia and worked for self-determination of the region during Ethiopia's civil war. Once a transitional government was put into place in 1991, the Somali organizations agreed in

principle to unite their causes and continue their push for self-determination. Yet, for the most part, Somali organizations have worked in the political arena for greater autonomy during the 1990s. In 1994, a new constitution divided Ethiopia into regions based on ethnicity in an attempt to ease ethnic tensions by giving the largest ethnic groups some control over their traditional territory. Throughout the transitional period, some Somali groups, particularly one faction of the ONLF, continued to wage low-level warfare against the government of Meles Zenawi. In January 1994, the ONLF and other Somali groups declared their continued fight for self-determination of the Ogaden. The Ogaden was tense and police reportedly harassed people, arrested suspected supports of the opposition, and committed arbitrary executions. After the ONLF announcement, ten other Somali organizations in the region denounced the secessionist intentions of the ONLF and pledged their continued cooperation with the transitional government. These groups merged to form the Ethnic Somali Democratic League (ESDL) which went on to win regional elections in 1995. The ESDL remains more popular than the ONLF, and it appears that Somalis for the most part want peace and development for their region and are willing to work through the democratic process in order to achieve these goals. One faction of the ONLF has merged with the ESDL, as has the WSLF, and younger members of the organization are more willing to cooperate with the government of Meles than older, entrenched members ... One other problem that has surfaced in the Somali/Ogaden region recently is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism with the appearance of al-Itihad al-Islam. The organization is based in Somalia and has carried out raids in the Somali region of Ethiopia. It has encouraged Somalis to fight the Ethiopian government and has declared its intentions to rule Somalia by political or military means. For the most part, Somalis have resisted the call to engage in a holy war against the state, yet government remains concerned about the movement (Aug.1997-June 1998).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Africa News Network (ANN). 30 November 2000. "Ethiopia: HIV/AIDS a Hidden Danger in Somali Region." [Accessed: 4 Mar. 2001]

Amnesty International. Annual Report 2000. "Ethiopia." [accessed: 4 Apr. 2001]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000. 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed: 4 Apr. 2001]

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). 2 January 2001. "Ethiopia-Somalia: An Uneasy Relationship -Part 1 & 2." [Accessed: 4 Apr. 2001]

Mebrek [Addis Ababa in Amharic]. 21 October 2000. "Ethiopia: Two Hundred People Reportedly Killed in Ethnic Clashes in South." (BBC Summary 21 Oct. 2000/NEXIS)

Minorities at Risk Project (CIDCM). August 1997 – June 1998. "Somalis in Ethiopia." [Accessed: 4 Mar. 2001]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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