When the men came with their guns and their knives, Meret Sisay’s mother stopped them at the door to their home in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, while the 18-year-old slipped out the back and fled for her life.
It was the second time in less than a year that Meret – like thousands of others from the Gedeo community who have lived in Oromia’s West Guji zone for decades – had been chased from her village because of her ethnicity.
A merry-go-round of forced evictions by groups of armed young men and government-pressured returns has left tens of thousands of ethnic Gedeos trapped in dire conditions in makeshift shelters across this part of southern Ethiopia.
Now in the village of Gotiti, in the Gedeo district of the Southern region that borders Oromia, Meret is one of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 internally displaced people living in overcrowded shelters without roofs and sanitation as the rainy season approaches.
The Ethiopian government has not formally acknowledged Gotiti’s inhabitants as IDPs eligible for humanitarian aid.
Aid workers say food assistance for IDPs in several areas near the border with West Guji, including Gotiti, has been blocked in order to encourage inhabitants to return to Oromia. They also say they’re worried about the spread of infectious diseases.
When IRIN visited in February, families of up to 10 individuals were living in wooden shelters well below UN standards for camp shelter space. Many children had swollen bellies – a sign of malnutrition – as well as scabies, diarrhoea, and other indications of unhygienic living conditions.