Exiled Eritreans hail Ethiopia’s ‘out-of-camp’ policy shift

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Exiled Eritrean refugees and politicians hailed Ethiopia’s recent decision that allows Eritrean refugees to live out of refugee camps and settlements. The newly introduced scheme, which went into force after talks between the Ethiopian government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) allows Eritrean refugees residing in camps to independently live anywhere they chose across the nation, provided that they can sustain themselves financially or if they could sustain from supports of relatives outside.

There are some 60,000 Eritrean refugees currently residing in five Ethiopian camps near the borders to Eritrea. With increasing numbers of Eritreans crossing borders to Ethiopia on daily basis, situation in the camps are crowded and in a poor condition. Providing funds to support all the new arrivals is also a problem. Leaders of Eritrean opposition organizations and refugee representative praised the move by Ethiopian authorities as an important step forward to mend ties between people of the two neighboring countries.

“The new program will considerably relax movement restrictions and helps to push forward to the on-going efforts to repair roughen people to people ties of the two brotherly people”, Abdella Mahmoud, leader of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), a coalition of 10 political groups told Sudan Tribune on Sunday. “We are very grateful to the Ethiopian government. The move is exemplary to other countries in terms of respecting rights and dignities of Eritrean refugee”, he added.

Chairman of Eritrean refugee association in Addis Ababa, Kibrom Sibhatu said, the new policy will enable refugees engage themselves in vocational training and educational opportunities. According to the United Nations, the tiny red sea nation, with a population of some 5 million, leads the numbers of refugees fleeing home compared to any other country not at war. According to state a Administration of Refugees and Returnees Administration (ARRA) report received by Sudan Tribune a few months ago, despite heavy patrolling and tight border controls, (according to arrivals in Ethiopia this includes a shoot-to-kill policy) last year 11,653 Eritreans made it to Ethiopia. Among these over 4,000 were Eritrean soldiers.

Reports indicate that, the influx of Eritreans to neighboring countries is sharply increasing since the past few years as excessive repression, gross human rights violations and forced conscription into the army are on the rise. On behalf of the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO), Yasin Mohamed Abdela welcomed the new approach further urging other countries to respect the international convention on refugees. “Unlike in Ethiopia, Eritrean Red Sea Afars (an ethnic minority in Eritrea with nomadic life style) are considered as illegal and are not hosted as refugees”, Abdela said.

“We call on the international community press countries to abide by international laws and to immediately intervene to stop the inhuman actions Eritreans refugees facing elsewhere”, the spokesman added. Following the decision a great number of Eritrean refugees mainly based in remote and barren areas are planning to use the new opportunity and start to live a new life in urban areas.

UNHCR has welcomed the change in policy:

‘UNHCR welcomes the new policy, as it officially introduces a new approach for hosting refugees in Ethiopia. Besides allowing refugees to live in urban settings, it also improves their access to services and helps build bridges with host communities. It is envisaged that full rollout of the policy will significantly reduce the costs of looking after refugees, as those benefiting from the scheme will be sustaining themselves, mainly through family support mechanisms.’ UNHCR said that it hopes that the decision will eventually expand to include refugees from other countries as well. Ethiopia hosts some 138,000 refugees including Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese’, Source (Sudan Tribune)