Ethiopia: Closure of Hitsats refugee camp in Tigray region
[Thanks to EEPA for this report]
It has been reported that Ethiopian authorities announced the closure of the Hitsats refugee camp in the Northern Ethiopan Tigray region, which hosts around 18.000 Eritrean migrants, states Ezega.com.
The source writes that refugees have been told to relocate by authorities.
The news has been confirmed by anonymous sources in the camp, who state that refugees are expected to relocate to a camp which is overcrowded and has no infrastructure.
The Ethiopian authorities reportedly cited budget concerns as reason for the closure of the refugee camp, which would leave more than ten thousands of refugees, many of them minors, with an uncertain future.
However, sources suggest that the budget had already been allocated and that the political situation with Eritrea is really motivating the closure.
The refugees are reportedly refusing to leave the camp, and the situation is ongoing as government bodies and the UNHCR are discussing how the situation should be resolved.
- Closure of Hitsats refugee camp in Ethiopia
- Ethiopia to Close Hintsats Refugee Camp in Tigray State
- Araia Kidane – Eritrean refugees in the Ethiopian side – Living in an uncertain situation
Anonymous sources confirmed that the federal government of Ethiopia ordered the closure of Hitsats refugee camp in Tigray province of Ethiopia. All camp refugees have been asked to relocate to another camp which is already overpopulated and does not have a functioning infrastructure. The government justifies the closure as a ‘budget constraint’, however UNHCR argues that the budget for 2020 was already approved and allocated to the Administration for Refugee & Returnee Affairs (ARRA), a governmental agency which has the mandate over refugees in Ethiopia. Hitsats, as the youngest camp in Tigray region, is currently home to more than 10,000 Eritrean refugees.
The new decision has received pushback by refugees who have written a petition to the federal government condemning the order. The closure is therefore delayed as refugees are refusing to leave the camp. Several governmental agencies together with UNHCR are meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss the petition and give their final verdict. Neither refugees nor organisations working in the camp know what will happen next and whether government will use force or another strategy to move people out.
According to a source, the move is linked to the political games that are being played on the regional level since the peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been signed. On the national level, the regional government of Tigray has promised to support refugees in Hitsats and is ready to oppose the federal government. The Deputy President of Tigray said during a meeting of Tigray People’s Liberation Front party that “no force can close the refugee camps in Tigray region”.
Eritreans flee their country due to continuous oppression of the regime through indefinite national service. Ethiopia has kept its doors opened for Eritrean refugees for several years and Eritreans were granted prima facie refugee status. New asylum policy, however, does not allow newly arrived Eritreans to be registered or given asylum. The number of registered individuals decreased from 250-500 per day to only 30 per day. Those who are denied registration are settling illegally in nearby towns and host communities without any help or support from organisations. According to analysts the government aims to frustrate the refugees and make conditions difficult for them so that they return back to Eritrea. This will allow the government to close all camps rather than openly sending refugees back which goes against international law.
The current situation brought uncertainty and concerns to the refugee population. According to a source “the situation is a bit tense [in Hitsats]. Refugees are vowing not to leave and openly said they would rather die than to leave the camp”. This adds to already high prevalence of traumatic experiences that refugees have undergone. The lack of clarity, information, and monitoring of the situation is exposing refugees to greater vulnerability. It has been observed that those refugees who have limited information are at high risk to fall in the hands of human traffickers.
Ethiopia to Close Hintsats Refugee Camp in Tigray State
By Staff Reporter
March 8, 2020 (Ezega.com) — The future for 18,000 Eritrean migrants in Hintsats refugee camp is uncertain as Ethiopian authorities announced the decision to shut down the seven-year-old refugee camp in Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
The Tigray regional government warned that the refugees will face punishments if they are forced to return to their home country.
The Ethiopian government did not disclose why it has decided to close the camps in Tigray contrary to its international obligations and for which it was praised by world bodies for so long. Observers believe this has to do with regional politics between the governments in Addis Ababa and Asmara and to satisfy demands by the Eritrean regime.
Ezega.com learned that the refugees were told by the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) to evacuate in ten days and move to another camp.
The Hintsats refugee camp is located near Shire town of Tigray region. It is one of the six refugee camps, sheltering Eritrean migrants and asylum seekers.
Last year, the government of Ethiopia announced plans to close all 27 refugee camps in the country over the next 10 years and integrate the migrants into local communities.
Ethiopia hosts more than 850,000 refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Eritrea, and shelters more refugees than all but one African country, Uganda.
Thousands of young Eritrean migrants have been flooding Ethiopia fleeing a combination of political-economic conditions that include general lack of freedom, conscription and poor economy. Reports reveal that Eritrean migrants largely unaccompanied continue to enter Ethiopia’s Mai-Aini and Hintsats refugee camps in journeys full of risks.
The Tigray regional government and UNHCR said they do not know if the camp would be closed during a discussion with representatives of the refugees.
The refugees told local media that the decision on the closure of the refugee camp comes after an agreement was reached between Addis Ababa and Asmara.
The Eritrean government wants to cut flow of Eritrean migrants to Hintsats refugee camp which is located near the Ethio-Eritrean border.
Deputy President of the Tigray regional state Debretsion Gebremichael recently said the central government was conspiring to shut down the Hintsats refugee camp. “No force can close the refugee camps in Tigray region, Deberetsion said during the 45th founding anniversary of TPLF.
Following the July 2018 peace agreement, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments reopened crossing points on their shared border on September 11. According to the Shire District administration, up to 15 000 Eritreans crossed into Ethiopia, some to visit relatives or to buy goods, and many to stay. The opening of the crossing points however did not stay long – not more than two months.
According to UNHCR, the average daily arrival rate of Eritrean migrants has increased, bringing the total number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to 175 000, a large proportion of whom are unaccompanied minors
Eritrean refugees in the Ethiopian side – Living in an uncertain situation
By the end of 2019, the registered number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is nearly 140,000, refugees who crossed through Tigray and Afar regions. Since PM Abiy Ahmed openly started talking about closing the camps, these refugees are in dilemma now. Its unclear why he said so, at least, my sources don’t know the motive behind the move. But one thing is certain that he is not in good terms with TPLF.
Anyway, out of fear of uncertainty, refugees are moving out of the camps and settling in urban cities. However, a refugee must have a relative to reunify with and address prior leaving the camp. Refugees have to look for someone to give them their phone number and address to give it to the camp management. Ethiopians and Eritreans living in Ethiopia found this as an opportunity to make money, charging them from 2000 to 3000 Birr to release their address info. A lucrative business started already!!
On the other hand, there is a precondition from the camp management that refugees who leave the camp will be deprived their refugee status – will not be recognized by UNHCR as refugees (will be removed from the refugee database). The situation is like choosing between a rock and hard place. Refugees are in hard choice, and that the international community have a responsibility to monitor the situation closely. We should leave no one behind to suffer due to the political unrest waged between the central government and the Tigray Regional Administration, in addition to the PIA’s unsacred gesture to involve himself in helping Dr Abiy against the fight with TPLF. Innocent refugees shouldn’t be victims of whatever Isaias and Dr Abiy are cooking behind the scene to topple TPLF from power.
I call upon UNHCR, Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), and others concerned international institutions to closely follow and monitor the developments in refugee affairs, especially in the Tigray region refugee camps. Refugees close to 90,000 in four camps are in a very uncertain situation.