Continuous Influx of Eritrean Refugees Challenges Ethiopia
Refugee and host communities in Ethiopia came together on June 20 to commemorate World Refugee Day through various cultural activities, organized within refugee camps as well as urban settings. But the reality behind the festivities is that hundreds of Eritrean refugees continue to cross the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia every day.
Despite the peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea, signed in July 2018, the internal situation and oppression of Eritrean people, mainly through the indefinite military service, remains intact. The continued inflow of young Eritreans fleeing oppression is putting strain on Ethiopia’s refugee camps.
A senior official from the Ethiopian refugee agency has reported that Eritrean refugees continue to arrive in Ethiopia in large numbers, 250 to 300 persons a day. The increasing number of people residing in refugee camps is posing an enormous challenge for the Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affair (ARRA) as well as development and relief organizations working with refugees. “We have challenges of shelter, Core Relief Items (CRI), water and energy alternatives,” states the senior official. Earlier reports indicate that many young Eritreans currently flee due to the increase of raids, Giffas, to force them into the indefinite national service.
It is not just Eritreans who are fleeing the country. According to the informed sources, around 5000 Somali refugees living in Eritrea are trying to reach Ethiopia in search of safety. Out of this group, more than 400 individuals have already arrived at Zalambessa, a border town between Ethiopia and Eritrea, where they are supported by Gulomokeda Wereda, a local administrative district of Tigray region.
Ethiopia has introduced an open door approach and is currently hosting more than 915,000 refugees inside the country. Even though the Federal Government of Ethiopia has shifted its national legislation to give broader rights to refugees, including work permits, the strain on Ethiopian reception facilities is growing.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) has hosted a summit in Brussels in which migration and its management was high on the agenda. The external migration policies of the EU have been challenged this week by a group of organizations through a joint initiative.
In the letter, addressed to the president of the European Council, organizations denounced migration policies and platforms such as the Khartoum Process through which the EU and several member states cooperate with regimes accused of systematic and severe human rights violations.
Civil society actors have been mobilizing in the form of legal action, campaigns and protests in order to challenge the adverse effect on human rights, democracy and rule of law that the EU’s external policies are creating. The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans has initiated a court case against the EU’s €20 million project supporting the Eritrean regime to build roads through a forced labour. Amnesty International and seven other NGOs have taken legal steps against France over the allegedly unlawful donation of boats to the Libyan coast guard. Also, a young Ethiopian asylum seeker has sued the UK’s Department for International Development for funding detention centres in Libya where refugees are exposed to human rights violations, torture and abuse.
Furthermore, NGOs have legally challenged the blocking of rescue operations on the Mediterranean Sea; meanwhile, a German rescue boat captain Pia Klemp faces prosecution in Italy for her rescue work. A group of lawyers has submitted a document to the International Criminal Court, which calls for EU prosecution over migrant and refugee deaths as a result of EU policy.
Meanwhile in the Greater Horn of Africa, citizens are raising their voice. Sudanese citizens have been demonstrating, first against the oppressive regime and now against the Transitional Military Council, and are calling for a democratic civilian government. A group of prominent African activists has written an open letter urging Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, to launch political reforms and to protect human rights of Eritrean people.
This initiative was predictably dismissed by the regime. Nevertheless, diaspora and even activists within Eritrea are pushing for change through the #Enough and #Yiakil campaign demanding end of indefinite national service, slavery and human rights violations.
If change is to happen, oppressive leaders and militia should be held accountable for their actions through empowerment of the people. As the letter to the president of the European Council highlights, the EU should support the people, rather than unaccountable external actors, by directing its policies and instruments towards this objective. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 June 2019]
A senior official from the Ethiopian refugee agency has reported that Eritrean refugees continue to arrive in Ethiopia in large numbers, 250 to 300 persons a day.