The words refugee and internally displaced people (IDP) are broadly used terms that are almost synonymous in meaning. Refugees are a group of people that have fled their homes into another country in order to escape war, conflict or some other tragedy. On the other hand, IDP are citizens who fled their homes for the same reasons but remained in their country of origin. There are approximately 12 million refugees and IDP within Africa and almost two-thirds, or 7.7 million, are located in the Horn of Africa (Central Intelligence Agency [C.I.A.], 2011). Despite the high number of refugees and IDP in the Horn of Africa, the focus will be on Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. This paper will attempt to shed a light on the plight of refugees and IDP and their potential impact on interests of the United States (U.S.).
Eritrea has the lowest number of refugees and IDP with almost 32,000 people displaced from their homes. However, this was not the case in the early 1990s when there were almost 280,000 refugees and 75,000 IDP as a result of the Eritrean/Ethiopian war (C.I.A., 2011). Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, leading to violent struggles and border disputes for years to follow. At one point the fighting was so intense that soldiers from both sides were locked in a fierce battle long after the civilians had fled the area. The soldiers were essentially fighting over vacant and desolate villages because a large portion of the civilians fled into refugee camps located in Ethiopia, Sudan or Kenya.
Additionally, thousands of Eritreans flee their homeland illegally because of conscription. Conscription is the practice of citizens enrolling into mandatory national service, usually the military. These soldiers are held long beyond their obligation date and are used as slave labor for government officials and their personal projects. According to “The Economist” (2006), more than 300 people a day escape from Eritrea into nearby Ethiopia as refugees due to conscription.
Ethiopia is not a safe haven either; it has its fair share of issues with refugees and IDP as well. As of December 2010, there are roughly 96,660 refugees in neighboring countries and more than 200,000 IDP seeking refuge in other regions within Ethiopia due to decades-long conflict with Somalia and Eritrea (C.I.A., 2011). The Ethiopia/Somalia conflict is similar to the Ethiopia/Eritrea conflict, wherein it involves border disputes and demarcation lines that were not effectively drawn during the colonial era. This dispute has resulted in many armed conflicts over the years. Somalia elected President Abdullani Yusuf, a “long time Ethiopian ally and warlord”, in 1994 (“Timeline: Ethiopia and Somalia”). President Yusuf attempted to establish a transitional government which upset the Union of Islamic Courts (U.I.C.). The U.I.C. began military assaults and actions against the unstable government. In turn, Ethiopia secretly invaded Somalia and began similar actions against...