29 June 2021
Open Letter: Eritrean refugees in Tigray
Eritrea Focus is deeply concerned about the plight of Eritrean refugees caught up in the war in Tigray. Eritrea Focus stood by the Tigrayan people in their hour of need. We support their struggle against attempts to crush them by the Ethiopian and the Eritrean governments, backed by ethnic militia and Somali troops. That support will continue. But we cannot remain silent while Eritrean refugees are being attacked and we call on the Tigrayan Government and the Tigray Defence Forces to do all they can to honour their commitments to ensure their safety and security.
We know that at the start of the conflict in November 2020 nearly 100,000 were being cared for in four camps, under the auspices of the UN refugee agency – the UNHCR. We are immensely grateful to the people of Tigray for the hospitality and welcome they extended to them, but today these men, women and children are suffering the most appalling fate.
The two northern camps (Hitsats and Shimelba) were overrun by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces early in the war. Some refugees managed to escape to Addis Ababa or flee to other parts of Ethiopia. Even here they suffered terribly from persecution, isolation and having to fend for themselves. But those who could not escape suffered the worst fate. Some were killed, while others were conscripted into the Eritrean army or forcibly returned to an unknown fate in Eritrea.
The plight of refugees in the two southern camps (Adi Harush and Mai Ayni) are our present concern. This was underlined by Tuesday’s statement by the US State Department, which we carry in full below.
The State Department spokesman said:
“we are deeply concerned about credible reports of attacks by military forces affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Tigrayan militias against Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region, particularly reports of violence in refugee camps.
We call on all armed actors in Tigray to stop attacks and intimidation against Eritrean refugees and all refugees, asylum seekers and people displaced by the ongoing violence, as well as against the aid workers attempting to respond to the humanitarian disaster more broadly.
This is not the first time Eritrean populations have been targeted in Tigray. In January, credible reports indicated that Eritrean refugees suffered killings, targeted abductions, and forced returns to Eritrea at the hands of Eritrean forces.
We call on all parties to adhere strictly to their obligations under international humanitarian law, and for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses to be held accountable through independent and transparent international processes.”
We are not aware of the information upon which this statement was made, but we endorse the sentiments expressed by the State Department. Indeed, we are hugely grateful to the State Department for all their efforts in this endeavour.
We do not know whether these acts were carried out by groups affiliated to the Tigrayan authorities or were the acts of individuals or individual commanders. We have even heard reports that they were the work of “shiftas” or bandits.
The elected Government of Tigray and the Tigray Defence Forces control the area in which the camps are situated and must take responsibility for the safety of the refugees. To this end, we call on the Government in Mekelle to prevent any further attacks of this kind and that they work with the relevant UN bodies, including the UNHCR, to ensure that Eritrean refugees can live in safety in areas under their control.
We must remember the Tigrayan and Eritrean peoples are suffering under common enemies and it is important we stand together.
Habte Hagos, chair, Eritrea Focus
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