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Why I do it - Laura Padoan

Emergency Response

UNHCR UK's External Relations Associate Laura Padoan was sent on mission with the Emergency Response Team to Ethiopia.

Can you tell us about your mission to Dollo Ado, Ethiopia?

Having completed UNHCR’s emergency training course last year, I was prepared to be sent on mission to anywhere in the world where a crisis may erupt, for up to three months and with only 72 hours notice. When the famine and drought in Somalia began to force huge numbers of refugees into Kenya and Ethiopia in July [2011], I got the call to prepare to go to Dollo Ado. I hadn’t even heard of it, but quickly found out it was over 1000 kilometres from Addis Ababa, in the middle of the Ogaden desert.

What was the situation on the ground when you arrived?

It was shocking. Nothing can quite prepare you for the overwhelming suffering of people in that situation. The scale of the emergency and the operational challenges facing the UNHCR team were immense. When I arrived over 16,000 refugees were staying in a temporary facility at the border which had been designed to accommodate only a few thousand refugees for up to 48 hours. One of the first challenges was to build a new camp - UNHCR staff and NGO partners were working round the clock to erect tents, dig latrines and wells, distribute food and core relief items as well register new arrivals and carry out health assessments. Located in one of the most remote regions in the world, it was extremely difficult even getting staff and supplies into the area.

There have been a number of kidnappings of aid workers in the Horn of Africa. Were you concerned for your safety?

Dollo Ado is a very high security risk area, just three kilometres from the Somali border. Although I was aware of the risks, I had to focus on the job in hand. UNHCR staff are trained in what to do in case of kidnap and I was very fortunate that there were no major incidents whilst I was there. 

What did you find most challenging?

The 40 degree heat, the wind and dust made working in the camps quite physically punishing at times. And sleeping in tents meant that the elements could never quite be escaped. 

What did you find most rewarding?

Without doubt, getting to know the refugees. Somalis are such warm, proud and hopeful people in spite of their terrible suffering.

Do you have one image which stands out in your mind from your time in Dollo?

It is difficult to forget the images of very young children suffering from acute malnutrition whose lives were very much in the balance, or the stories of men and women whose loved ones have been brutally killed by al Shabaab. 

What would you say to our donors who contributed to the East Africa appeal?

Thank you. The generosity of donors enables UNHCR to provide life-saving assistance in places like Dollo Ado, where refugees are incredibly vulnerable.

Laura Padoan at Dollo Ado camp, Ethiopia

Laura Padoan at Dollo Ado camp, Ethiopia

Just crossed the border from Somalia, a family awaits transportation to the transit camp.

Just crossed the border from Somalia, a family awaits transportation to the transit camp.

A child suffering from measles in Dollo Ado.

A child suffering from measles in Dollo Ado.