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Eritrea: Cooking fuel for displaced families

17-09-2003 News Release 03/109

Life at the Debai Sima camp is not easy. Set up in a very hot and dry area near the Red Sea port town of Assab, Eritrea, the camp houses over 200 Afar families. Entire villages previously inhabited by this ethnic group were destroyed during the 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, forcing the residents to flee.

The original village of Debai Sima, situated some 60 kilometres from Assab on the road to Addis Ababa, was one of the many destroyed. Its inhabitants now live in the camp, built of dome-shaped tents pitched in a lunar landscape.

" Before the war, my children, my husband and I lived in a village close to Debai Sima, which is now in Ethiopia, " recalled 70-year old Fatima Abdu Yussuf. " We traded cloth and household items, and we had some goats and camels. When the war broke out, our animals died because we could no longer get them to the grazing lands, " said Fatima. When she and her family fled, they were unable to take anything with them – not even their shoes. Luckily, they all survived.

After taking temporary refuge in a village removed from the fighting, Fatima and her family were resettled in the Debai Sima camp. " Now trading is impossible, because of the closed border – so we depend entirely on assistance, " explained this mother of five. The Eritrean government relief agency is providing the camp dwellers with food and water, while the ICRC is distributing plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, jerrycans and soap. Since the beginning of 2003, the organization has also been providing each family with 10 litres of kerosene per month for cooking and lighting. " The kerosene is very much appreciated since we have to walk for at least six hours to collect firewood, " said Fatima, who in the past had to gather wood from heavily mined trenches. As for the future, she said: " We Afar people are all the same – whatever side of the border we're on, our survival depends on peace. "

    

 Further information: Marçal Izard, ICRC Asmara, tel. ++2911 18 11 64 or 18 11 30