Addis Ababa — UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has reportedly praised Ethiopia's generosity towards refugees and its openness to new and innovative approaches in order to improve the lives of the more than 900,000 refugees and the communities hosting them.
The High Commissioner, who spent two days in Melkadida, a locality bordering Somalia that hosts over 200,000 refugees, saw how 100-million-USD investment by IKEA Foundation over the last seven years has transformed the semi-arid, isolated area into a thriving community, UNHCR reported.
Grandi visited projects funded by the Foundation, including an irrigation scheme where 1,000 hectares of previously barren land are now lush farms that enable refugees grow crops such as watermelon, tomatoes and corn up to three times a year, it was learned.
According to UNHCR, Grandi also visited markets supported by microfinance and other economic empowerment programs where refugees and the local community buy and sell their crops. The program has been so successful that some of the crops are being exported to other regions in the country, it was pointed out.
"What has developed here is a unique approach to self-reliance of refugees where the government of Ethiopia has been extremely open to new approaches," the High Commissioner said.
Grandi added that "the host communities and refugees have also been remarkably open to work together in harmony. This is something we don't normally see."
At a meeting with community leaders in Dollo Ado, the High Commissioner and IKEA Foundation CEO Per Heggenes heard about how the investment has had a positive impact on the entire community. They also announced that the Foundation has decided to extend their investment in the project for at least three more years to ensure that the community can sustain it independently.
Heggenes, who noted that the area was in a dire situation when the project began, called the progress he has witnessed "a dream come true." He said its legacy is as much about helping foster harmony between the refugees and the local Ethiopians, as it is about growing the economy.
At the Melkadida Camp, the High Commissioner visited another project that the IKEA Foundation invested in - a secondary school, where refugee and host community students have access to quality teachers, well-equipped classrooms and a supportive learning environment.
For those that graduate, there is an opportunity to attend a new teacher's college in Melkadida, also thanks to IKEA Foundation funding, with the goal of giving young people the opportunity to become professionally qualified teachers and to help shape the next generation of students in the region.