Over 10,000 Eritrean asylum seekers travel to Ethiopia as borders reopen

Over 10,000 Eritrean asylum seekers have crossed over to Ethiopia since the border was reopened on 11 September 2018, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. In addition to seeking refugee status, thousands are also reunifying with family and relatives they have not seen in over two decades.

The border was closed in 1998 during the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. During that time, Eritreans seeking asylum in Ethiopia had to pay smugglers to take them across the border. Thousands are now taking advantage of the free movement along the borders to flee their homeland and seek refuge in Ethiopia.

“I hugged and kissed them again and again. I was crying so much, I could not control my happiness. Thank God, I don’t have the words to express my happiness. I’m very happy, and I’m enjoying the time with my large family,” Haregu from Eritrea told the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) after she reunited with family members.

Not all refugees, however, are registering at the reception centres. Some Eritreans traveling to Ethiopia told The Guardian that they are bypassing the centres due to rumours that they would be sent home if they registered themselves. As details of the deal struck between the two countries have not been made public, many are suspicious.

“We are scared our status will be revoked,” said an Eritrean teacher who arrived in Ethiopia more than a year ago to The Guardian. “We don’t know what deal this government has made with ours.”

Those who arrived before the border reopening are also feeling nervous. Speaking to Africa Monitors, those who fled Eritrea years ago through irregular migration said they fear the newfound bond between Eritrea and Ethiopia may create consequences for them. Some are now considering irregularly migrating to Kenya or Uganda, which can cost about USD 2,000 with smugglers.

According to UNHCR, however, Ethiopia remains firmly committed to the protection of refugees. Asylum seekers have to register at the reception centres in order to qualify for protection and support from various UN agencies and NGOs. The country is the second largest host of refugees in Africa, with over 932,000 refugees in camps across the country, including 175,000 from Eritrea.

TMP – 23/10/2018

Photo credit: Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Photo caption: Endabaguna reception centre, Ethiopia. Newly arrived Eritrean families waiting for registration.

 

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