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Ethiopia has long had the image of being one of Africa’s most needy nations but the country has now turned the tables to become the largest refugee-hosting country on the continent.
Fighting in neighboring South Sudan has seen Ethiopia take in more than 250,000 displaced persons, contributing to a refugee population of nearly 630,000 in the east African state.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, Ethiopia has now overtaken Kenya in terms of offering refuge to those fleeing other African states.
President Mulatu Teshome of Ethiopia said his country saw it as its duty to extend the hand of friendly assistance to neighbors South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
“We not only share borders but also we share destiny,” he said in an interview in Ankara last week following his attendance at the swearing-in ceremony for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Ethiopia is trying very hard to bring peace and stability to Sudan,” he added. “We are working very hard in trying to stabilize our neighbors South Sudan and Somalia.”
Mulatu, who is known by his given name, believes that Ethiopia will gain a strong economic partner when peace and stability is established in South Sudan.
The Ethiopian government has been providing humanitarian aid in 23 refugee camps and five transit sites around the country, according to the UN.
South Sudan, which achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, has been shaken by violence since last December, when President Salva Kiir Mayardit accused former vice president Riek Machar of plotting to overthrow the government.
Fighting between government troops and rebels led to 800,000 being forced from their homes.
Mulatu drew comparisons between Ethiopia’s help to South Sudan and other neighboring countries and Turkey’s support for Syrian refugees. “We are [both] extending our hand to the suffering people of neighboring countries,” Mulatu said.
Turkey’s close relationship with Ethiopia has been reinforced by Mulatu’s time as ambassador in Ankara. He was elected president while serving in Turkey last October.