On Monday Radio Erena broadcast news that Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia were being pressurised to return home.
I put out this tweet: “According to Radio Erena, Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia are being told to sign the regret form at the new Eritrean embassy and to go back home. What is UNHCR doing? This is refoulment and against international law.”
I have now received this email from the UNHCR clarifying the situation.
“Thanks for writing and I did see your tweet. In response, I can tell you that while UNHCR welcomes the initial peace negotiations between the Government of Eritrea and Ethiopia as a sign of willingness to put an end of decades of dispute between both states, the discussions over the fate of the over 200,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia have yet to take place.
If and when these discussions take place, UNHCR will work with both governments to ensure that the possibility of any repatriation process is done voluntarily and that it is sustainable, so that it can signify a durable solution to the refugees’ plight. However, as I stated above, with the peace deal having just been signed, and the embassy only opening yesterday, the official repatriation discussions involving UNHCR have not taken place.
While many refugees may dream of going home, it may not be the solution for others who feel they have compelling reasons to not yet do so. Voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity requires the full commitment of the country of origin to help reintegrate its own people, of the host government to help facilitate it, as well as the refugees’ willingness to do so. The answers to these uncertainties will depends on how the peace deal develops in due course, which will require meaningful discussions with both governments as well as the refugees.”
Snr Regional Comms and Spokesperson, UNCHR