Eritrea: Government expects more Deportees, 3/31/99

Eritrea: Government expects more Deportees, 3/31/99

ERITREA: Government expects more deportees as displaced numbers grow

NAIROBI, 31 March (IRIN) - The Eritrean government is planning for the arrival of 50,000 Eritreans from Ethiopia during 1999. They would join over 55,000 who have already arrived since the outbreak of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea last May, officals say. In the latest explusions, the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday announced that 1,501 Eritreans were sent back from Ethiopia over the weekend. The deportations take place despite ongoing clashes on the ground along the common border. Eritrean officials say there are about 75,000 Eritreans still in Ethiopia..

A spokesman for the Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission (ERREC) told IRIN today that the government's latest appeal for all war-affected populations targets up to 550,000 people in need. Since last year, donor interest "has grown" in supporting humanitarian programmes for the displaced, the ERREC official said, while mentioning that last year's ERREC appeal was about one-third funded. From the UN, UNDP is donating about US $2.2 million to the displaced persons' programme.

The human cost of the war in the Horn of Africa is enormous. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea claim to have killed, wounded or captured tens of thousands of troops. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced over the last 10 months because of the conflict. Border villages and towns have been evacuated, where previously co-habiting communities from the respective countries have become divided and homeless. The latest appeals and figures from Ethiopia and Eritrea put the expected caseload of war-displaced civilians in need of humanitarian assistance in 1999 at around 931,000 people. (Ethiopia recently upped its figures to about 381,000 displaced people).

Among these war-affected populations in the two countries, of particular humanitarian concern are Eritrean deportees and their families who have come back from Ethiopia. Although both sides claim to have suffered deportations (Ethiopia claimed last Friday that 40,521 Ethiopian nationals have been expelled from Eritrea), humanitarian organisations, diplomats and international human rights organisations say that the Ethiopian policy of deportation does not equate with the experiences of Ethiopians leaving Eritrea.

Since June 1998, over 55,000 deportees have arrived, usually by bus, at various points along the border, and are being supported in temporary camps by the Eritrean government, or by relatives and friends. Each deportee recieves on arrival 1,500-1,800 Nakfa (about US $200) from the government-run ERREC. This amount was originally allocated when the first 300 deportees arrived in June 1998; the government did not anticipate it would ultimately be extending such support to more than 50,000 people. The newly arriving deportees are also issued with new identity documents, and are entitled to food rations for six months and some other non-food items. ERREC reports that much of the food and cash is borrowed from other state-run enterprises.

Most of the deportees are of Eritrean descent but chose to remain in Ethiopia when Eritrea - formerly a province of Ethiopia - won de facto independence in 1991. At the time, both countries agreed that this was a choice afforded to Eritreans living and working in Ethiopia. It was at that time the Eritrean government which chose at the end of the war against Mengistu Haile Mariam to deport thousands of Ethiopians,

Many deportees who arrived at the Eritrean border over the last nine months had spent all their lives in Ethiopia, been in possession of Ethiopian identity cards and passports, had voted as Ethiopian citizens, worked in government offices and owned established businesses in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. All classes and ages were included in the policy of expulsion, from the rural farmer to a former Supreme Court judge, students and humanitarian workers. Many of the Eritreans have Ethiopian spouses.

The Ethiopian government's position on the deportees is that they pose a "security risk" and a wide-ranging network of potential subversion had to be dismantled. But human rights organisations have expressed concern at remarks made by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in a July 1998 interview. Speaking on state radio, Meles defended the policy, saying the government did not have to justify deportations, which could be carried out even if "we don't like the colour of your eyes". The ICRC has, however, been granted access to many of the deportees while in detention and transit.

Journalists in Eritrea have met one category of Eritreans who chose to sell up and leave Ethiopia, flying via Djibouti. But "voluntary deportees" are in a minority - most were forcibly expelled over the border, while Ethiopia claims family members of deportees, who make up a large part of the numbers, are not forced to leave.

Initially, deportees were taken to remote border points, like Humera, on the Sudan border; but after December, when well-placed observers said the policy appeared to intensify just before war erupted again in early February, the majority were sent towards Assab, on the Red Sea. Some 25,000 deportees arrived at the Assab border in December and January. An aid worker said the most striking thing about the arrival of the deportees at that time was "the small amount of possessions they carried - mostly just one bag". ERREC and ICRC arranged for the deportees in Assab to be taken to the second port of Massawa by boat, before being transferred to temporary camps or relatives.

Because of the notorious propaganda war between the two countries, in which each country aggressively accuses and counter-accuses with little opportunity for independent verification, reports over the last year of deportations received very little international attention. The deportations have occurred in a region accustomed to huge refugee flows and displaced population movements, but are of a different nature.

A UN official said this week the deportees were "finding it pretty tough" to rebuild their lives in Eritrea. Some had never visited Eritrea before, a few only speak the Ethiopian lingua franca, Amharic, and no Eritrean languages. Another common concern is the status of assets left behind in Ethiopia as many of the deportees were relatively well-off urban businesspeople.


Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:38:56 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: Eritrea: Government expects more deportees [19990401]

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific