Important statement from UN refugee agency on Eritreans in Ethiopia

Note from Eritrea Hub:

The background to the UNHCR statement below is the apparent attempt by the Ethiopian government to improve relations with the Eritrean government by making conditions in the refugee camps in Tigray increasingly difficult.

This is something the Tigray authorities are resisting. Despite the stand of the Tigray authorities it appeared as if Hitsats refugee camp was about to be close. This now seems to have been put on hold.

The critical paragraph in UNHCR statement appears to be this: “In light of the state of emergency, ARRA [Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affair] appears to have put the planned and announced closure of the Hitsats refugee camp on hold. ARRA has made staff available for food distribution for April, together with UNHCR and WFP. Our advocacy continues to focus on the need for ARRA to provide clear details about the timelines and measures for closure.”

We are monitoring this situation closely and we will provide further updates as soon as possible.

Update on the Impact of COVID-19 on Refugees

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Addis Ababa, 03 April 2020


On 26 March 2020, the UNHCR Representative addressed a written communication in multiple languages to all refugees in Ethiopia. It was a message of solidary and support, but mostly insisting on the importance of mitigating measures and the need to raise awareness among the refuge communities. Field and Sub-Offices have been provided with links to information material and have initiated information campaigns on COVID-19 through the already existing information and reach-out mechanisms.


Considering the poor hygiene conditions, and to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19 virus, UNHCR suspended activities at the Refugee Reception Centre for urban refugees. UNHCR has initiated a Refugee Helpline to allow refugees to call UNHCR staff on duty during weekdays (8h30-17h30). Referrals will be made to protection services (RSD, resettlement, registration, provision of general information on protection). UNHCR provided Refugee Representative and Refugee Volunteers (who are also coordinating through a WhatsApp group) with extra phone credit to disseminate information regarding prevention and response to COVID-19. Key messages are translated into multiple languages. All urban refugees in the CBI programme have received two months’ allowance and an additional contribution per person for the purchase of hygiene items. UNHCR’s medical partner DICAC is on stand-by with medical personnel to provide emergency medical assistance.


Following the decision of the Government of Ethiopia to temporarily close all land borders to curb the spread of COVID-19, UNHCR Shire was informed on 24 March, first of the suspension of registration activities by ARRA at Endabaguna RRC and later of the suspension of asylum- seeker reception and screening at the border. To date, 423 Eritrean new arrivals are in quarantine for a period of 14 days at Endabaguna RRC, which has been turned into a quarantine center.

While UNHCR does not have access to the border areas, the organization has access to Endabaguna to monitor the situation there. UNHCR is working with the authorities and partners to improve the conditions of persons of concern including their access to communication with the outside world. UNHCR is liaising with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) and ICRC to make the “restoring family links” telephone line available to the persons of concern under quarantine, which helps to reduce the anxiety for those who have not managed to report their whereabouts to their family members or relatives.

After the Tigray Regional State declared a state of emergency from 28 March 2020, banning all civilian movements, ARRA and UNHCR obtained exemptions from the restriction of movement, to travel to the camps to undertake critical humanitarian and life-saving activities.

In light of the state of emergency, ARRA appears to have put the planned and announced closure of the Hitsats refugee camp on hold. ARRA has made staff available for food distribution for April, together with UNHCR and WFP. Our advocacy continues to focus on the need for ARRA to provide clear details about the timelines and measures for closure.

UNHCR and NGO Partners have informed ARRA in Shire that there are neither the resources nor the logistical capacity to facilitate relocation and accommodate elsewhere the 26,000 refugees currently settled in Hitsats refugee camp.

The assistance programme in Mai Aini and Adi Harush remains under pressure following the increased influx from September 2018 when the borders were temporarily opened. The average availability of portable water for the exiting population is 14 litres/person/day in Mai Aini and 11 l/p/d in Adi Harush. The sanitation conditions remains below standards with the current situation being 10 persons/latrine in Adi Harush and 8 persons/latrine in Mai Aini. The need for more shelters remains critical as there is a major problem in Mai Aini and Adi Harush with approximately 15 persons occupying one shelter unit.


On 24 March, ARRA, in conjunction with UNHCR and its partners, transferred the remaining 2,190 asylum-seekers at Pamdong Reception Centre to the nearby camp of Nguenyyiel in Gambella and closed the facility. They were settled in shelters constructed by IOM. This followed the Government order for the closure of land borders. Hereafter, the Centre is to be used as an isolation facility to quarantine new arrivals from South Sudan. Refugees were dispatched to various zones taking into account sub-clans; particular attention was paid to unaccompanied and separated children, and efforts were made for them to reunite with relatives where possible.


As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the preventative measures of the neighboring Governments, movements across Ethiopian and Kenyan borders with Somalia are restricted. Despite the order to close land borders, these have remained porous. Both Kenya and Ethiopia border areas have experienced a lull in fighting, but as there may be a perception that Somalia is safer because of fewer confirmed COVID cases so far, there is a possible scenario that persons may venture to return to Somalia.

On 21 March, Ethiopian military troops crossed into Dollo/Somalia and took control of the airfield there. There are reports of a military build-up (possibly around Gedo and Middle Juba) for action against the Al-Shabaab. On 25 March, the border was officially closed to all movements as a result of the general Government order and there are reports of troops being deployed along the border to prevent irregular crossings.

On 26 March, ARRA informed UNHCR that all relocations by IOM from Dollo Ado Reception Centre are suspended in order to enforce a 14-day quarantine/isolation for individuals there. The population of the centre at that time was 804 individuals/197 households.

UNHCR is seriously concerned about the hygiene conditions in the RC, which are not conducive for a quarantine centre and do not meet the minimum health standards as imposed by the Ministry of Health and WHO.


As it stands today, there are no reports of asylum-seekers stranded or put in quarantine in Jijiga and Assosa. As in all refugee locations, UNHCR teams in Jijiga and Assosa are working with the Regional Health Bureau and ARRA in employing preventive and preparedness activities, including sensitization and awareness raising, increased distribution of soap, and have redoubled efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene among refugees and host communities through community leaders.




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