wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
05DJIBOUTI54 2005-01-12 13:17:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Djibouti
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 04 DJIBOUTI 01473

1. (SBU) Summary. ConOff and a USAID representative
observed UNHCR-directed refugee repatriations November 24 in
Djibouti. The process was disorganized and confrontational,
and fraud was blatant. But in the end, the day resulted in
511 refugees repatriated from the Ali Addeh refugee camp in
Djibouti to northern Somalia. End Summary.

2. (U) On November 24, ConOff and a USAID representative
accompanied UNHCR and the Djiboutian National Organization
for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims (ONARS) to
witness the repatriation of 79 refugee families (511
individuals) to northern Somalia, the relatively politically
stable area known as Somaliland. They had all been living in
the Ali Addeh refugee camp in southern Djibouti for as much
as 15 years. The repatriation was one of a number of such
events designed to return all refugees to Somaliland and
close the refugee camps in Djibouti by 2006.

3. (U) The evening before the repatriation, the refugees
arrived at a staging area outside the city of Djibouti. They
had been brought in trucks, complete with all the belongings
they were taking back to Somaliland. At the staging area,
the trucks were filled with the repatriation package allotted
to each family. The package, varying slightly based on
family size, consisted of 9 months worth of staple foods,
cooking utensils, sleeping mats, protective tarps, etc.
Packages also included U.S. dollars, which were only to be
distributed immediately prior to departure. Each family was
assigned to a truck according to their destination within
Somaliland. One truck was left empty as a precaution in case
any other vehicle broke down en route.

4. (U) Observers arrived shortly after 9:00am. We observed
men leaving the staging area &in protest8 urged on by an
elderly leader. They were upset that a refugee had been
arrested the previous evening after an altercation with local
police. According to UNHCR representatives (translating for
Embassy personnel) the men declared solidarity with the
arrestee and refused to leave without him. (Comment. ConOff
believes the men waited until the arrival of the observers,
to emphasize their point. Most of the men only went about
100 meters down the road and then sat under a tree to wait
for resolution. End Comment.)

5. (U) Shortly after the men left, the women began
organizing in groups to protest the food included in the
package. One older woman started inciting the others,
declaring that the flour was old. The arguments continued
for more than an hour, and moved to other topics such as the
substitution of dried peas for beans (they had been promised
beans, but only peas were available at the time.) They
demanded more cooking oil in place of the beans. Oil is a
more salable commodity, translating easily to cash.

6. (U) At some point during the argument, one of the women
revealed to UNHCR that the man arrested was not from Ali
Addeh, and therefore not eligible to be repatriated with this
convoy. While this argument was taking place, UNHCR
employees were comparing names on the list from the camp of
individuals that had volunteered for the convoy and turned in
their ration cards, to the pink slips that they were given in
exchange for the ration cards. The double-checking was to
precede the distribution of cash. The process brought
significant discrepancies to light. About 20% more pink
slips were presented than appeared on the official lists.
This led to another heated argument. The head of ONARS
accused UNHCR of incompetence in running a repatriation
operation. The UNHCR employees became indignant and said
they couldn't control fraud, and insisted that their
signatures had been forged on the pink slips.

7. (U) It was decided that individuals not appearing on the
original list would not be transported with this convoy.
Food that had been allocated to them earlier that day was now
unloaded from the trucks and two trucks were designated to
return those stores to the warehouse in Djibouti. This
caused a protest from local laborers saying they had been
employed only to load the trucks, not unload them. Rapid
negotiations led to a new fee agreement, and the food was
reallocated appropriately.

8. (U) Meanwhile, a few of the refugees, seeing the cash
being counted, claimed the dollars were counterfeit. The
currency was in stacks of crisp new bank bills, and it's
possible that most refugees had never seen new bills. In a
country where bills are circulated so often they become very
worn, new documents may be considered suspect. However, our
driver informed ConOff that a few savvy individuals were
angling to get the money in Euros because of the recent weak
exchange rate for U.S. dollars.

9. (U) By 1:00 pm, the organizers were becoming visibly
anxious about the delays. The trucks, special rugged
vehicles required for the difficult conditions, had been
brought in from Somalia and only had permission to remain in
Djibouti for 48 hours. The convoy had to cross the border
before nightfall. The intense heat was exacerbating issues,
as observers had not planned to spend the day at the staging
area. Shelter from the sun, as well as food and drinking
water were scarce. A decision was made to move the convoy
immediately, and resolve remaining issues on the other side
of the border.

10. (U) On half hour later, an announcement was made that
the convoy was leaving, and only individuals named on the
original list drawn up at the camp would be transported. The
cash would be distributed after crossing the border. An
intense flurry of activity immediately followed. As soon as
it became clear that the assigned foodstuffs were no longer
open for negotiation (no ground appeared to have been given),
an instant barter system sprang up, and families began
trading their goods amongst each other, bags of peas and
maize moved from one truck to the next, while oil, cooking
tins or other goods moved back to yet other vehicles. Within
half an hour, the trucks were loaded and the convoy lined up
to head towards Somalia.

11. (SBU) Comment. This was the 14th repatriation to take
place from Djibouti in 2004. ConOff was surprised that the
process is still so chaotic. The system for checking
individuals against the official list of registered
repatriation candidates was cumbersome, and ineffective. The
list was not alphabetized or organized in any other method
that ConOff could determine. Further, the organizers did not
seem to know how many should be on the list, and therefore,
how much food should be provided. The trucks that were
loaded with repatriation packages for individuals not on the
official list created extra confusion and wasted time and
effort. The idea of distributing the cash after crossing the
border seems to have been a decision of desperation; although
it was immensely logical given the high degree of fraud, and
observers were amazed it hadn't been done that way in the
past. Fraud was mentioned repeatedly throughout the day.
Past repatriations have resulted in as little as 20% of
individuals who accepted the package of food and money
actually crossing the border into Somalia. According to
UNHCR, 515 individuals did in fact cross the border this time
and accept their money on the other side. It remains to be
seen how many actually stay in Somalia, and how many sell
their packages and return to Djibouti as refugees, as illegal
economic migrants, or as Djiboutian citizens who managed to
defraud the refugee coordinators. End comment.

13. (U) As of December, 8,086 individuals comprising 1,632
families have been repatriated from Djibouti to Somaliland in
14 convoys. The total number remaining in the refugee camps
is 13,810 (Ali Addeh: 6,955 and Holl Holl: 6,855). In
addition, the Aour Aoussa Transit Center holds 3,775
refugees, 3,395 of whom are from South and Central Somalia.