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Open Letter from Anuak Ethiopian Refugees to the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dear Mr. President,

We are the Requesters, Anuak refugees and asylum seekers based in Kenya (Dadaab, Kakuma and Nairobi) and South Sudan (Gorom), who submitted a complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel in September 2012. We have written to you twice before but we have never received a response. This is our final appeal and we pray that this time our voice will be heard.

We were forced to flee our homeland in Gambella, Ethiopia because we dared to oppose the government’s forced relocation program, known as “villagization”. We Anuaks never consented to give up our ancestral lands, which is the source of our life and our identity. We only moved out of fear. When local farmers did not agree to relocate, at night soldiers came and raped the women and beat the men. Those teachers, agriculture workers and other civil servants who refused to implement this program, including many of us, were targeted with arrest and torture. This is why we are living as refugees in neighboring countries today.

Without the billions of dollars provided by the World Bank and other donors through the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) project, the Ethiopian government would never have had the capacity to relocate so many people and grab our ancestral land. That is why we filed our complaint to the Inspection Panel and why we begged you at that time to delay the next phase of the project until you could ensure that it would not be used to displace and kill our people.

Now we have been informed about the findings of the Inspection Panel. We know that the investigation found that the World Bank does not track how PBS funds are used on the ground. If the World Bank cannot guarantee that its money will not be used to abuse people, then it should not provide money in this way to the Ethiopian government.

We know that the investigation found that PBS did not follow the World Bank Policy on Indigenous Peoples. We indigenous people have a right to decide about any development projects that affect us and especially our land. We have a right to be consulted and a right to reject any development that we don’t want.

For the past 118 years that we have been living under the control of the central government of Ethiopia, we have never been consulted about any development project or policy that affects our people. Nobody ever informed us that the World Bank was supporting basic services in Gambella or asked for our opinion about the services we want and where and how we want them delivered. Instead we were forced to give up our fertile land and move to dry, forested areas in order to access these services funded by the World Bank. And when we moved with the promise of getting better services, we found that it was all a lie. At the new locations, there were no services and the land we were given could hardly grow food. When the World Bank saw this happening, it should have stopped PBS until the government stopped villagization. If you did that, maybe we would not be refugees today. But since the World Bank continued to fund PBS 3 after two years of villagization, and after we pleaded with you to stop, the Bank has a responsibility to help us recover what we have lost.

We want our people in Gambella region displaced by villagization programme, to return to their ancestral land without fear of retribution. We want support to restart their farms, with modern technology like farmers have in other parts of Ethiopia. We want them to grow food on their land for local consumption, rather than working like slaves on big farms owned by foreigners growing crops to export to other countries. We want grinding mills and wells that work in their villages and good roads that go to clinics and markets and not to gold mines. We want a university and a hospital in Gambella region with quality services for indigenous people. We want our people to be consulted and to have ownership of our development.

In the refugee camps where we live in Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, we are facing insecurity and dire living conditions but we cannot return home or our lives will be in danger. Women are dying from caesarian sections and minor surgeries because of the poor quality of health care. Newcomers are not accepted by UNCHR and so we must share our food rations with them so they don’t starve. After primary school, our youth have nothing to do but sit idle or become addicted to drugs. It is so painful to see our children growing up in a foreign land with no future. We need support to develop our livelihoods and our youth need opportunities to go to secondary school and university.

We are very encouraged by the bold agenda you have set for the World Bank and the international community to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. We strongly support your call for equitable and inclusive development in fragile and conflict-affected states. We were especially moved by your statement, published last year in the Washington Post, that “the fight to eliminate all institutional discrimination is an urgent task.”

We are victims of a government that systematically discriminates against indigenous people with dark skin. Because of this discrimination, we have gone from food security to extreme poverty – living on food aid as refugees. All we are asking is that you live up to your high words and ensure that your institution lives up to its good policies.

Thank you for your listening to us and may the Almighty God bless the work of your hands.

High regards,

Anuak Requesters to the World Bank Inspection Panel