“The Ethiopian government’s villagization program is not improving access to services for Gambella’s indigenous people, but is instead undermining their livelihoods and food security,” said Jan Egeland, Europe director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should suspend the program until it can ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and that people have been properly consulted and compensated for the loss of their land.”
"I can tell you that it is baseless — on both grounds — on both the land-grab issue and resettlement of the people," Ethiopian Information Minister Bereket Simon told BBC about the report.
The plan also states that the moves are strictly voluntary; a sentiment that was echoed by government officials who denounced any wrongdoing.
"No one is forced [to leave their homes]. This is an absolute lie. The people around Gambella are inhabiting the place in a very scattered manner,” Simon said.
However, according to the report ‘Waiting Here for Death’: Forced Displacement and ‘Villagization’ in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region, the first full year of the “villagization” has not only fallen short of its promises, but threatens to put the lives and livelihoods of entire populations in jeopardy.
The report alleges that many of the settlements are on the brink of starvation after the government forced many to move during the country’s dry season and failed to provide food assistance or assistance with basics like seeds and fertilizers so that farmers may regrow crops lost to the move.
"When the investors came in they took over the land and [the villagers] were kicked out," Magn Nyang, a resident of the U.S. who says his mother was forcibly re-settled from a village to a camp, told BBC. "They were relocated under the pretext that they were going to get clean water, health clinics built for them, schools for their children — but none of that happened."
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(Photo: CSA Ethiopia)