Agency says Eritrean Refugees Returning to Camps

  • Activates plan to Shut down two ‘inhospitable’ Shelters

ADDIS ABABA – Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) said it has found the whereabouts of 10, 000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. The agency said 4,600 of them have already returned to refugee camps.

The report came after the United Nations said as many as ‘20,000 refugees are missing after two camps in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region were destroyed’.

The refugees fled from Hitsats and Shimelba shelters soon after the fighting started early November.

Tesfahun Gobezay, ARRA’s Director-General, said “Only 19000 Eritrean refugees were in these refugee camps, “of whom, we have currently created active contact with more than 10, 000”.

“This doesn’t mean that the remaining have vanished or forcibly returned to their country as many have claimed,” Tesfahun told reporters on Tuesday.

“We can easily identify them with their electronic identity cards and more than 300 are reporting to us per day. And many of them are also dispersed in different parts of the country,” he added.

Many of the ‘missing refugees’ are reported to have fled to Addis Ababa city, and various parts of Tigray and Amhara regional states.

The Agency said it is currently working to bring the refugees back to their camps but the task may take time.

Camps to be Shut Down

The government decided to go ahead with plans to close Hitsats and Shimelba camps run by the United Nations’ refugee agency in Tigray region, saying one is too close to the Eritrean border and the other is in an inhabitable location.

Shimelba is only 20 kilometers away from Eritrea. Its establishment there “has been contested because at least the refugees should be relocated 50 km away from the border of their country of origin as per international standards,” Tesfahun said.

Guidelines by the UN refugee agency recommend that camps should be at least 50 kilometers or a day’s journey from national borders and potentially sensitive areas such as military bases.

“And Hitsats is found in a very inhospitable area for human beings to lead a reasonably normal life; it is in the very area (Dedebit) where the junta tried to hide. Both of the camps are located in areas where the government took active law enforcement operations.

“The government of Ethiopia has tried to relocate the refugees in these camps to another area had it not been for the stubborn refusal of the TPLF clique that was administering the region before the beginning of the law enforcement operation,” said ARRA’s director.

Some of the refugees have already been relocated to the remaining two camps that host Eritrean refugees in Tigray while the others are dispersed in Addis Ababa, Tigray and Amhara regions.

Ethiopian federal troops entered Tigray in response to an attack conducted by forces of former ruling party of the region – TPLF – in the early hours of Nov 4, 2020.

Featured Image: Tesfahun Gobezay, ARRA’s Director-General, at a press conference on Tuesday