Photo: Most of Eritrea’s population are disenfranchised due to forced conscriptions and a life below the poverty line. Source: - Photo: 2019

Exodus of Eritreans in Post-Peace Era Continues

By Kristina Melicherová

BRUSSELS (IDN) – Hope for change in Eritrea after the July 2018 Ethiopia-Eritrea peace agreement has faded. Nearly a year after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his country would accept the Algiers Agreement of 2000 and make peace with Eritrea, the flow of refugees fleeing the repressive regime continues unabated.

A senior official from Ethiopia’s refugee agency recently confirmed that the situation in the border area between Ethiopia and Eritrea has not changed since the official closing of all border crossings for vehicles in April 2019. He confirmed that the number of refugees from Eritrea to Ethiopia continues to increase, with as many as 250 people being processed every day.

This figure does not include the many other refugees and migrants from Eritrea who do not register officially. While the exodus is increasing, Eritreans are put up for ‘voluntary’ return from Libya to Eritrea.

Since December 2018, Ethiopia and Eritrea have been gradually closing their shared border crossings to vehicles again. While information in Eritrea on what the border arrangements are for its people is not available, the borders have not opened for Eritrean people, but this has not stopped people from Eritrea fleeing the country.

According to newly-obtained information from the Eritrean-Ethiopian border area, 25 percent of the new arrivals are unaccompanied and separated children. The reason given for them fleeing the country is that the Eritrean Government has started to “kidnap the children to go to SAWA military training,” said one source.  SAWA is a military academy in the Gash-Barka region of Eritrea.

Independent sources with contacts in Eritrea confirm that giffas to round up children for national service have greatly increased – in these raids, people whose papers are not in order are also arrested. Another source in The Netherlands explained that the Eritrean government has started to kidnap children from their neighbourhoods in these giffas in order to draft them into military training at the SAWA Defence Training Centre. The national service has been qualified as forced labour and slavery by the United Nations.

Meanwhile, an estimated 11,000 Eritrean refugees are trapped in Libya. These include many unaccompanied and separated minors as well as pregnant women or women with small children. In Libya, they are subjected to inhumane treatment and torture in warehouses and detention centres, victim to human trafficking gangs. Rather than finding access to a procedure to seek protection, many are now being pressured to return from Libya to Eritrea.

Recently, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has started a ‘voluntary’ return programme for Eritreans. As many as 50 Eritreans have been repatriated, and independent sources confirm that around 70 are currently being processed for repatriation.

The pressure of having been subjected to torture, sexual violence, mental stress, illness (especially TB), death, violence, lack of food, lack of information and other inhumane conditions in Libya leaves the refugees feeling they have no choice but to accept the only option made available to them, which is to return to Eritrea.

According to the 2015 UN Commission of Inquiry report on human rights in Eritrea, “individuals forcefully repatriated [to Eritrea] are inevitably considered as having left the country unlawfully, and are consequently regarded as serious offenders, but also as ‘traitors’.” A common pattern of treatment of returnees is their arrest upon arrival in Eritrea.”

Human rights organisations have called for a stop to these illegal deportations of Eritreans from Libya to Eritrea.

The situation of illegal return is compounded by the fact that the IOM has no presence in Eritrea and has no capacity to check what happens after people have been returned.

According to witnesses, the returnees are not informed of this, nor are they informed that it will be Eritrean officials that will ‘welcome’ them upon their return. The Eritrean embassy is, according to witness statements, involved in the selection of the returnees in Libya. Witnesses also state that those who accept return to Eritrea do so out of desperation and plan to cross the border to Ethiopia as soon as they can.

The situation on the Ethiopian side is increasingly difficult as more than a thousand refugees are staying daily within the registration holding areas which have insufficient capacity to deal with the increasing numbers.

The constant flow of refugees to Ethiopia has brought immense challenges for the Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affair (ARRA) as well as other organisations operating in Tigray region. People crossing to Ethiopia often wait in collection centres for two days before they are transported to Endabaguna, from where they are placed in one of the refugee camps in Tigray region. The capacity of the screening centre as well as the refugee camps is stretched beyond its limits.

An Ethiopian official confirms that there are around 1,200 refugees residing in Endabaguna every day before they are transported to the refugee camps by ARRA. The screening centre currently shelters 800 unaccompanied children because there is insufficient capacity inside the refugee camps for them.

Lack of shelter is just one of many challenges that refugees face in the camps. Because of the dry season, the prescribed minimum standards for water distribution (20 litres per person per day) are not available. The non-food support which provides refugees with items such as water jerry cans, blankets, mats and kitchen utensils is very limited.

After the peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea was signed in July 2018, a sense of optimism briefly arose within the communities of both countries, as well as in the international community. However, those who had been hoping for a shift towards democracy and the upholding of human rights in Eritrea have been left disappointed.

The opening of border crossings in September 2018 brought an influx of goods and a brief possibility of family reunification, but the closing of the border ends these positive changes. Meanwhile, the continuation of national service and the forceful recruiting of minors seriously aggravates the situation.

The much-needed involvement of Eritrean people in the peace agreement has not been achieved and the recent closing of the border has resulted in new waves of desperation, leading to a fresh exodus of refugees from Eritrea. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 May 2019]

Photo: Most of Eritrea’s population are disenfranchised due to forced conscriptions and a life below the poverty line. Source:

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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