Opening a dialogue with the Eritrean opposition is not “an issue at all for the people of this country.” Yemane Gebreab, presidential adviser
Eritrea’s rapprochement with Ethiopia may have removed the threat of conflict, but it poses a new challenge for the one-party Red Sea state that’s long prioritized a war-footing with its giant neighbor over democracy.

After decades of conflict and tension, the calm is a novelty for the nation that sits on a key shipping route to the Suez Canal and has known only five years of official peace since seceding from Ethiopia in 1993. After the two fought a 1998-2000 war, Eritrea stifled dissent and indefinitely suspended time-limits on national service, spurring tens of thousands of people to flee to neighboring countries and Europe.

Now, as Ethiopia’s leader promises multiparty democracy, a top Eritrean official says President Isaias Afwerki’s government will “have to respond and provide options for people to consider.”

Yemane Gebreab

Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

“We want to create a situation of political participation of our population and we want to devise ways of doing that so people can have a say in how their country and their government is run,” presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab said in an interview in the capital, Asmara.

The ruling party is working on “political structures, forums, discussions” where “people could have an input — a say in their lives — in the administration of their country,” he said, without elaborating or providing a timeline.

Slow Process

Reform in Eritrea — home to an estimated 3.2 million people, according to its National Development Ministry — may prove slow for a country that lacks a working constitution, free press or independent civil society and has long been lambasted for its human-rights record by the United Nations and advocacy groups.

The government has said it’s planning political changes before: Yemane spoke of “an inclusive participatory process” in nation-building during a 2015 discussion forum in Vienna, and Isaias announced late 2014 that Eritrea was drafting a new constitution.

As recently as 2015, the UN listed Eritreans as the fourth-biggest group risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, adding to Europe’s refugee crisis. Eritrea describes those fleeing as economic migrants, seeking salaries higher than the roughly $120-$270 per month paid in the army and civil service before automatic deductions for items such as housing.

Eritrea Port


“People are expecting some kind of democratic opening,” said Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean journalist and human-rights activist based in Sweden. “The hopes for change are very high.”

Eritrea, which is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, has been under UN sanctions since 2009 because of allegations it supports Islamist militants in Somalia — a charge it argues is politically motivated. Ethiopia recently called for the embargo to be lifted.

Mining, Pipeline

The economy has been mostly isolated too, although Nevsun Resources Ltd.of Canada and China’s Shanghai Sfeco Group have mining operations with the state that are producing gold, copper and zinc, according to the Energy & Mines Ministry.

The new friendship with landlocked Ethiopia — which has Africa’s fastest-growing economy and a population of more than 100 million people — raises the prospect of it again using Eritrea’s ports. An oil pipelinebetween the nations is planned.

Multiparty elections planned in Eritrea’s neighbor may be a step “that works for Ethiopia,” adviser Yemane said. “We’re focusing on creating the ground here whereby all citizens can enjoy their rights. We want to free ourselves from prescriptions of dogmas. We want to craft a political situation that works for us here in Eritrea, that responds to the aspirations of our people.”

Abiy Ahmed, left, and Isaias Afwerki celebrate the reopening of the Embassy of Eritrea in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.

Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said work will begin on the constitution soon.

The drafting process “was interrupted because of war, not because the government didn’t want a constitution,” he said. “It will be worked out, though unlikely before the end of the year with many priorities amid the dawn of peace.”

‘Wonderful Opportunity’

Adviser Yemane said the focus will be on economic, social and cultural development that was “held back for 20 years” and that peace gives “a wonderful opportunity.”

No one underestimates the challenges. Eritrea’s ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice is under the firm control of Isaias, the 72-year-old ex-rebel leader. Former high-level officials who’ve criticized his rule have been imprisoned and held incommunicado, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

A UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea in 2016 accused officialsof committing crimes against humanity, including enslavement, rape and murder over the previous quarter-century. Eritrea’s government rejected the report, saying it had “no solid evidence.” A 2017 study at the University of Leiden described a “complex regional system involving government officials, military personnel and criminal gangs” used to smuggle Eritreans abroad.

People walk in the streets of the Eritrean capital of Asmara.


No Rebel Dialogue

While Ethiopia’s political opening has included the government reaching out to opposition groups — including those it previously designated terrorists and were based in Eritrea — its neighbor hasn’t made similar overtures.

The presidential adviser says dialogue with Eritrean rebels hosted by Ethiopia isn’t “an issue at all for the people of this country.”

Eritrean opposition in the diaspora are planning to protest at the UN in Geneva later this month against the “undeserved sympathy” Asmara is getting from “regional and global actors” even as the human-rights and political situations remain unchanged, according to Harnnet, an opposition website.

If there is real change, then says Michael Woldemariam, assistant professor of international relations at Boston University, “the potential economic dividends for the Eritrean people are huge.”

“The movement of resources away from national defense to more productive economic activities will have a positive impact,” he said. “If combined with economic and political reforms, the possibilities for the country are limitless.”


" There is no permanent government but permanent people"

" The dictatorship in Eritrea will pass one day"

 The coming Geneve Convention must work on this issue

 CODE- Convention for Democratic Eritrea    

The case of interim –constitution and permanent constitution.
What is the difference between interim and permanent constitution.
Interim –constitution is a legal framework providing a basis for the democratic transition.
Interim or provisional or transitional are the various names given to the period from the fall of dictatorship to the permanent constitution.
In this article I will deal with , why interim constitution is needed in Eritrea after the fall of the dictatorship.

      Why interim constitution is an issue for discussion at this time

The issue of constitution is the first issue that comes immediately after the fall of the dictatorship. The new democratic system will require an interim- constitution that establishes the desired framework of the transition from the fall of the dictatorship to the establishment of the permanent constitution.

Interim –constitution is supposed to govern during the transitional period – from the fall of dictatorship until the permanent constitution established.

It comes into effect when the regime falls and is handed over to a caretaker government composed the sovereignty of all political organizations. The interim –constitution will function as a basic law during the year of transition until an elected Assembly can draw up a permanent constitution inside the fixed time.

Constitutions are the supreme laws of the nation designed to manage the internal conflict of the Eritrean diversity. They must be arranged in a way that provides the people the opportunity to discuss on their fundamental rights and freedoms not granted by those who were in power.

The Eritrean people must discuss on them freely and democratically.

The 1997 constitution drafted but not implemented/defunct was under the control of dictatorship. It was not people’s constitution but a one mans constitution and later called a worthless paper and was thrown away by the self- appointed president. If it was of the people why didn’t they defend their constitution and fight against the dictatorship?

An interim constitution is the transitional basic law of the transitional caretaker government until the permanent constitution is drafted and processed. The reason why this issue is crucial and conflict issue is because there is no common understanding what kind of constitution unitary or federal constitution will be suitable to manage conflicts in Eritrea? Eritrea has never ruled under the law since independence and the road map of transition must focus also on the period from the fall of dictatorship up to the building of constitutional government guaranteeing security and safety for all its citizens.

Here , I would like to quote Gene Sharps arguments. Gene Sharp in his book, “ From Dictatorship to Democracy” says that,

“In the interest of preserving the democratic system an impending dictatorial trends and measures, the constitution should preferably be one that establishes a federal system with significant prerogatives reserved for the regional, state, and local levels of government”

In Eritrea there are no functioning constitutions either unitary or federal. Therefore the need for interim constitution is of crucial importance. Those who ignore interim arrangements their aim is to establish themselves as new dictators under the 1997 constitution that was drafted under dictatorship without no freedoms.

Our struggle is not only to remove the dictatorship but looking forward how to arrange the period of transition from dictatorship to permanent constitution.

The Key features of the interim constitution:

• Directive principles of the state/ State structure

• Citizenship

• Fundamental Rights & Duties

• Fundamental freedoms

• Interim- Legislatur

• Interim- Government

• Interim Court

• Interim security provisions

• Constitutional bodies

• Autonomous and local administrations

• Constituent Assembly

• Transitional Justice and reconciliation

• Other miscellaneous provisions

Transition from dictatorship to democracy is both fighting the dictatorship and at the same time laying the foundations for democratic transition.

For most of Eritreans in the opposition or those who support the dictatorship constitution means it is only the political elites who can design the constitution.

Why do we need interim legal framework from the fall of the dictatorship to permanent constitution must be one of our agendas and prepare for it while struggling to topple the tyranny.

Constitution Building and its role in conflict management

Constitutional arrangements provide us an important opportunity to manage our internal and external conflicts. When designing a legal framework citizens identify the fundamental values they believe in and the sort of institutions by which they want to be governed. This may involve inclusive and participatory national deliberation resulting in agreements that establish the country’s basic law.

An interim- constitution is helps us find the path towards healing, reconciliation, truth telling and justice towards building the permanent constitution all Eritreans breath on it.


By Selam Kidane

Notes from my visit to a refugee reception centre near Adwa

Photos by Selam Kidane taken at Hitsats, Eritrean refugee camp, Tigray regional state in Northern EthiopiaThe number of refugees isn’t going down.

One of the reception centres, near Adwa, says they receive up to 50 refugees a day.

Their ages range from 5-50.

This is a high number, as during the rainy season numbers are expected to decrease, as the rivers are full.

The highest number of arrivals are still national service recruits; a significant proportion are unaccompanied children.

The smallest children are brought to the Mereb river by smugglers and then fellow travellers carry them across.

Photos by Selam Kidane taken at Hitsats, Eritrean refugee camp, Tigray regional state in Northern Ethiopia

A rising number of children who are currently arriving have parents in Europe.

You can tell that they are different from the children in the border region from their appearance and clothing.

Local children simply cross the river from nearby villages because their friends and siblings had also done so.

The ones that are coming from central region cities and towns report paying up to $3,000 for the trip.

The deal is meant to cover the journey to Sudan, so they consider Ethiopia as a transit point.

There are still shootings at the border

In June two soldiers who were crossing together were shot at. One of them died. The other made it across to the Ethiopian side, wounded.

In Tsorona (also in June) a group of 20 people, including women and children, was shot at: 5 women were killed.

Last month two young boys were killed in a mine accident.

The other trend is that whole families are travelling together: parents with 5-6 children.

In addition to the national service the biggest push factor is a sense of hoplesness inside Eritrea.

Some of the refugees bring their life’s savings with them to start small businesses in the region. Others want to pursue further education.

Photos by Selam Kidane taken at Hitsats, Eritrean refugee camp, Tigray regional state in Northern Ethiopia

Photos by Selam Kidane taken at Hitsats refugee camp for Eritreans, Tigray regional state, Northern Ethiopia.

Hitsats is located approximately 45 kilometres from Shire Endasellasie, the seat of North-western Zone of Tigray, about 1,130 km north of Addis Ababa


Germany’s federal minister for economic cooperation and development, Gerd Müller, who is visiting several African countries, has said about 15,000 young Eritreans arrived in Germany this year, making in total some 75,000 Eritreans seeking asylum in Germany. Müller said he hoped Eritrea would change its system of years long military conscription. He also urged the country to move toward establishing democratic structures.

Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed says Eritreans are welcome home

Source: Deutsche Welle

Germany’s development minister has said fewer migrants from Eritrea are expected now the country has made peace with Ethiopia. In an interview, Eritrea’s top diplomat said those who have already left are free to return.

Migrants being rescued from a boat (picture alliance/AP Photo/E. Morenatti)Many Eritrean migrants take the perilous journey to Europe

In an interview with DW’s Adrian Kriesch on Thursday, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, who held talks with Müller earlier this week, said any compatriots of his who had migrated could return home without difficulty.

Read also: German minister pushes for free trade deal ahead of Africa trip

DW: You had first talks with Germany’s development cooperation minister today. Has there been any outcome of the talks already? Are there any concrete things you discussed with the minister?

Osman Saleh Mohammed (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Lecocq)Osman Saleh Mohammed: ‘Eritreans who want to come back voluntarily, they can come’

Osman Saleh Mohammed:There have been no concrete things achieved, but there is now full understanding on both sides about the current situation.

When the German minister was talking earlier today, he mentioned that there was a reform process happening here and that Germany was ready to support it. What kind of reform was he talking about?

In this region, there’s a complete change, and this change is for peace. And peace is prevailing in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and in the region at large. We had very good peace talks with the Ethiopian government and at the same time with the Somali government and the South Sudanese government, and this will continue with other parts of the region.

Is there any particular project your government is interested in working on with other countries?

There’s no particular project we could do here, but we said that both Ethiopia and Eritrea have created a very conducive atmosphere for investment and trade. And because of this, we are going to use the resources of both countries for the development of our nations. For this reason, we are working toward an integrated economy of the two countries. For example, port maintenance and road maintenance are areas where we could invest. There are other areas like agriculture where we could have what we call “integrated community projects.” We also raised the issue of what we call “water projects’ infrastructure.” The German government might participate in supporting our agriculture, road construction and water and energy infrastructure.

Did the German minister indicate the amount of money Germany wants to spend?

Read also: Data Analysis: Aid money alone will not be enough to stop the causes of migration

Not yet. We haven’t spoken about the amount of money that will be earmarked for specific projects, but in general, we had very comprehensive ideas and an understanding of different issues related to projects.

Germany's minister of development, Gerd Müller (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen)Germany’s minister of development, Gerd Müller, is on an eight-day tour of Africa

In some African countries, there’s criticism that Germany demands a lot from partners compared to what it gives. Is that the impression you also have here?

That should not be the case. It will depend on the requirements that we have to fulfill. We should create our own projects and implement them, and if there are monitoring issues raised, then the German government can monitor any project, whatever it is. But you see, if we want to present a project, it has to be our own. External bodies should not impose it on us. The German government does not do that and should not do that. We have already talked about this issue, and we said all projects should be owned by the Eritrean government or the Ethiopian government, or by both of us.

The German minister said that Germany is only taking an interest because of the migration crisis, the migrants coming to Europe. Is that also a shared feeling?

Migrants are not coming to Germany at the same rate as previously. The numbers are very much on the decrease. And we are not the cause of the migration. We know that it is only because European countries have given political asylum to Eritreans that migrants are attracted. They can provide many reasons to be accepted by Germany and neighboring countries in the region.

Did the minister mention migration?

Yes, he did. But we do have a full understanding that Eritreans can come back voluntarily at any time.

Are they welcome home?

Yes. There is a comprehensive government policy [on that], but Eritreans who want to come back voluntarily, they can come. There’s no problem.




German Minister for Economic Cooperation & Development Gerd Müller
arrived in Asmara for an official visit , following his visit to Ethiopia.

German minister pushes for free trade deal ahead of Africa trip

Germany’s development minister Gerd Müller is promoting a “customs-free trade deal in Africa” ahead of his seven-nation Africa visit. Experts say the real issues are being ignored.

When it comes to the economic relationship between Germany and Africa, the issue of customs exemption is no longer an important topic. At least that’s what renowned development economist Robert Kappel from the University of Leipzig thinks. Instead, agricultural subsidies and trade barriers should be the main topic of discussion. However, Kappel blames Europe for pursuing neocolonialism in its monetary policy.

Yet, Müller avoided these issues before his trip to Africa this week. According to Kappel, he has failed to recognize that a trade imbalance has only increased in recent years — despite a customs exemption. “The minister is not well informed, therefore it’s right to criticize him,” Kappel told DW.

Africa’s negative trade balance

The trade relationship between Europe and Africa is increasingly turning out to put Africa at a disadvantage. While the imports from Europe in most African countries are on the rise, the total number of African exports to most European countries is decreasing.

This mostly has to do with the trend of prices, says Kappel. Oil and gas are the main exports from Africa to Germany and Europe, followed by agricultural products. “The prices of agricultural products and that of oil and gas have dropped in the past years,” says Kappel. “This is why the trade balance of African countries with Europe has become negative.”

According to the economic promotion company Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), Germany’s foreign trade with sub-Saharan Africa amounted to €26.1 billion euros ($30.1billion) last year. Imports have also risen compared to the previous year. However, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for only 1.1 percent of total foreign trade in 2017, just as in the previous year.

A group of protesters in red t-shirts roll two large drums over tomatoes spread on the ground.

A new free trade agreement with Africa?

If the European Union (EU) and Germany’s federal government had their way, more European products would be found in the African market in the future. Europeans have already identified Africa as a huge outlet market. The European Commission’s statistical office, Eurostat, has calculated that by 2050 a quarter of the world’s population will be living in Africa. In Berlin and Brussels, Africa has been described as the “sleeping giant of the global economy.” And they are unwilling to leave this potential mass market to China and India. Asia’s trade with Africa has already spent years growing in importance.

For some time, the EU has been negotiating with African countries about possible new trade agreements, known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). They aim to allow the market to open up and offer an outlet for European products in Africa. Supporters are hoping for markets to open up on both sides and increase efficiency through competition and low prices for consumers.

But these discussions are causing displeasure in Africa. Critics of the EPAs fear that unrestricted trade with Europe will further weaken their economy. They are also concerned that high-quality European products might suppress the sale of African goods in their home countries. This would only serve to further increase the imbalance in trade between Europe and Africa.

Imbalanced food imports

The irregular trade balance also has to do with the massive export subsidies for European goods, says Kappel. But subsidy reduction is not an issue for the EU or the German government — despite it being the main point of criticism raised by most development economists.

Agricultural subsidies are not only an issue in Europe. According to the OECD, North America, Europe, Japan and China subsidize their agriculture with over 1 billion dollars (867 million euros) daily. But farmers and agricultural companies in Europe still pocket most state subsidies, says Kappel. “Their surpluses are made cheaper in African markets and compete with African producers, who end up destroyed.”

In the meantime, most African countries have become importers of food: 80 percent of food consumption in Africa is derived from food imports. Many experts agree that this issue needs to be urgently addressed. But Müller appears to be pretending that the problem does not exist.

“He proposed that African governments could subsidize their farmers as well, but no African country can compete with the EU’s subsidies,” says Kappel.

Hidden trade barriers

According to experts, another major obstacle African exporters face when it comes to accessing the European market is found in the health, safety and technical standards which are expected to be met by all African exporters.

Elmar Brok, a member of the European Parliament belonging to Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) party, considers these standards to be “non-tariff trade barriers,” and a form of hidden protectionist measures that cannot be achieved through taxes and subsidies alone. “We actually have very high health and consumer protection standards, but we are of course not prepared to lower our health standards,” he told Germany’s national broadcaster ARD shortly before Müller’s trip to Africa.

According to Brok, Müller still believes it is necessary to help Africans meet the necessary requirements. Kappel agrees: “German-African chambers of commerce should be set up — those that deal with the marketing of African products in the European market — so that African companies get a chance to enter the European market, not only with their raw materials and agricultural products but also with their manufactured goods.” However, such a plan is unlikely to materialize any time soon, as Müller has yet to voice any proposals addressing the matter.

Independent monetary policies remain a taboo issue

According to Kappel, the lack of independent monetary policies is another taboo topic, targeted at the needs of African economies. Falsely overvalued African currencies, tied to the US dollar or the euro, raised the price of African export products and prevented foreign investments in Africa.

As a result, the CFA franc regions in West and Central Africa — a relic of the French colonial era — became an attempt to maintain a sense of colonialism through currency.

“By overvaluing the CFA franc, we are hindering industrialization in other African countries,” says Kappel. “Companies there could never be competitive in the global market.”

A group of people from sub-Saharan countries climb over a fence between Morocco and Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla

The issue of migration remains relevant

Beginning on Thursday, Müller’s one-week trip will take him to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Ghana. During talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, they will examine the reform partnerships of both countries, as well as new investment opportunities. Young Ghanaians will hopefully be presented with future prospects and the issue of migration should be dealt with through new job opportunities.

So, will Müller’s trip help spark important incentives for better trade relations with Africa? Kappel is skeptical. So many issues are yet to be discussed. But the development economist admits that “rhetorically, you can come through if you talk about fair trading conditions.


Written by

Amanda Poole, Jennifer Riggan

The sudden outbreak of peace in the Horn of Africa means an open border and new vulnerability. Researchers Jennifer Riggan and Amanda Poole capture the concerns of Eritrean refugees.

Long-separated families meet at Asmara International Airport on July 21, 2018, during the first week after Ethiopian airlines resumed flights to Asmara, Eritrea MAHEDER HAILESELASSIE TADESE/AFP/Getty Images

In July this year, Ethiopia and Eritrea shocked the world, thrilled their people and upended politics as usual in the Horn of Africa by signing an agreement of peace and friendship that ended 20 years of conflict.

Change has happened remarkably fast since then. Phone lines and flights that hadn’t operated for two decades reconnected the two countries, which share a 567-mile (912km) border. Families separated by war reunited in ecstatic celebration. The Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa reopened and everyone expects land travel across the contentious border to resume soon.

But not everyone is excited about peace. On a recent research visit to Ethiopia, where we have been studying Eritrean refugee settlements for the past two years, we discovered that many refugees are afraid of what peace could mean for their safety and their future. Some refugees say that the end of conflict in the region may actually be more dangerous for them than war.

The Eritrean refugee camps in northern Ethiopia are unusual. Instead of being crowded with families who have fled conflict, like the camps along other borders housing refugees from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, the camps in the north are filled with young men.

We discovered that many refugees are afraid of what peace could mean for their safety and their future. Some refugees say that the end of conflict in the region may actually be more dangerous for them than war.

Eritrean refugees are concerned for their safety in Ethiopia because the end of the border conflict does not guarantee political change in Eritrea, or peace along the border where the camps are located.

“Our problem is not the border,” a refugee named Kidane told us, repeating a common sentiment. He returned to the Ethiopian camps near the Eritrean border over five years ago after failing to reach Europe. “We came here not because of a border problem, but because of problems with the government.” Of the new peace agreement, he says, “It exposes us. It will harm us. It will not benefit us.”

They have good reason to be concerned. In Sudan, Eritrean refugees are vulnerable to capture and return by the Eritrean military, who operate across the Sudanese-Eritrean border. Refugees in Ethiopia fear that an open border will enable Eritrean operatives to target asylum seekers in the camps. If Ethiopia fails to enhance protections, refugees may choose to migrate onward.

Other Eritrean refugees we spoke to would like to celebrate their country’s newfound peace but fear for their safety in the border region that is becoming increasingly volatile. “Before, I was very comfortable with the ability of Ethiopia to protect refugees,” said one man living in Mai Aini, one of the refugee camps along the northern border. “Now, I am frustrated.”

The acceptance of the peace agreement has angered many local communities, as Ethiopian border towns will be torn apart when land is ceded to Eritrea. Much of the disputed border lies in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where many of the camps are located. For the past year, contentious domestic politics have pitted the Tigrayans against other ethno-national groups in Ethiopia, and peace is being brokered by regimes in both countries that are antagonistic to the main political party from that region, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Refugees in the camps fear a border that is increasingly both open and volatile.

Eritrean asylum seekers are also concerned about what peace could mean for their asylum claims. Some question whether the prima facie basis for granting Eritreans refugee status in Ethiopia will continue for Eritreans opposed to the regime in Asmara.


In Europe, Eritreans have been at the center of debates about the legitimacy of asylum claims. In the wake of increased migration, European countries have asserted that Eritreans are fleeing poverty rather than human rights problems in their home country, and therefore can be denied asylum and safely returned.

Now, Israel is considering deporting Eritreans if Eritrea ends indefinite national service. But asylum seekers could be in danger unless Eritrea gives amnesty to those who have fled illegally.

Refugees need assurances in order to feel safe. They need assurances that the world understands that Eritrea has not yet changed. Eritrean law requires citizens to undergo 18 months of national military service, but the government used the war as a pretext to make national service permanent for most. The conditions for soldiers in Eritrea’s army are harsh, including physical punishments, forced labor, restrictions on freedom of movement and long periods of time spent away from family.

Some leave as children, before they are conscripted in grade 12 (the last year of secondary school). Others leave after their official service term ends when they realize that, even if officially demobilized, the government can still recall them.

Indefinite national service isn’t the only reason that the 160,000-plus Eritrean refugees currently hosted by Ethiopia have fled their country. President Isaias governs Eritrea with austere control. Movement within the country has required written permission for most of the past 20 years. It is illegal to leave without an exit visa, which is nearly impossible to obtain. The thousands who flee each month risk being shot or imprisoned. Any attempt at protest has been stanched. The constitution has never been implemented, and Eritreans may be arbitrarily arrested and detained in a prison system where torture is routine.

If the government of Eritrea would like Eritrean refugees to come home, they will need assurances that Eritrea is a different kind of place. They will also need stronger assurances that they can stay in Ethiopia and will be protected there, particularly if conflict occurs in Tigray. As one refugee stated, “The political situation is very tense and when it is tense, we feel worried. We don’t know what will happen.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.


On 5th September an exhibition will open in London to give a rare insight into Eritrea – its long war for independence from Ethiopia and the tragedy of its current repression.

The exhibition will be held at Resources for London. It has been organised  by Eritrea Focus, an association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the abuses of human rights in Eritrea.

Eritrea Exibtion 1

Eritrea exhibition 2


Ethiopian in refugee camp

Recent conflicts reported in Gedeo (SNNPR), West Guji (Oromia) and Jigjiga city (Somali region) quickly spreading to Deghabur, Warder, Kabridahar, Gode and Babile areas.

Source: Acaps

Ethiopia is host to the second largest refugee population in Africa.? There are over 910,000 refugees and approximately 2.6 million IDPs in Ethiopia.? In 2017, 621 sites opened to host people displaced by conflict, as well as climate-induced factors. ?There has been an overall trend of increase in conflict-related displacement since December 2016. ?Ethiopians have also returned from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia since November 2017.?
Latest update: 21/08/2018
There are over 2.6 million IDPs recorded in Ethiopia. 536,000 were displaced as a result of natural hazards, and 2.1 million are conflict-affected IDPs.?Displacement increased significantly in 2017: 293 sites were opened before 2017 and 621 were opened in 2017. ?
WEST Guji and gedeo conflict
Intercommunal violence around Gedeo (SNNPR) and West Guji (Oromia) zones displaced 987,000 people in June. As of mid-August, around 694,000 people remain displaced in Gedeo zone, the majority in host communities (Bule, Dilla Zuria, Kochere, Gedeb, Wanago, Yirgachefe woredas and Dilla and Yirgachefe towns). Around 189,000 IDPs remain displaced in West Guji zone at 18 host communities and 43 collective sites.? Heavy rains since June have worsened the already vulnerable conditions for IDPs in the region. IDPs are living in inadequate shelter and with limited access to sanitation. ?Priorities are emergency shelter and NFI, food, health, and WASH.?
Violence between the Guji and Gedeo communities started along the border of West Guji zone on 13 April. At least 75 people have died, in seven localities.? Influx of IDPs in some areas has nearly doubled the population and resources are stretched beyond capacity. Prior to the new displacement, this area was already one of the most densely populated parts of the country.? The causes sparking the recent conflict are unknown, but land disputes and conflict on border demarcations have long existed.?
intercommunal conflicts
Intercommunal conflict displaced 141,410 people in Somali region since 4 August. The conflict started in Jigjiga city (Somali region) and quickly spread to Deghabur, Warder, Kabridahar, Gode and Babile areas. In Somali region 35,450 IDPs are hosted in Jigjiga; in Oromia region there are 55,000 IDPs in Babile, 23,300 in Chinaksen, 24,000 in Gursum, and 280 in Harar; in Tigray region 2,000 IDPs are in Mekelle town – see map below. Urgent humanitarian needs are food, WASH, Health and NFI. In Jigjiga, prices inflation is reported on food, water, and other basic needs due to limited available shops and supplies. Fuel is also limited. Between 4-13 August, shops, markets, and banks were closed. On 10 August, Ethiopian Airlines resumed its operation for the Addis-Jigjiga route. Flights had been cancelled since 4 August. On 15 August, IDPs from Jigjiga are reported to have started returning to home.?
Clashes between Oromo and Somali ethnicities from September- December 2017 left up to one million people displaced in the two regions.? New displacements have been reported along the border separating the two regions since January. ?
drought, floods and cyclone
While three consecutive years of drought have led to displacement in many sites of the country, flash floods due to overperformance of Belgrains (Feb-Jun) as well as Cyclone Sagar that struck Ethiopia on 20 May have affected people mainly in Somali, Oromia, SNNPR and Afar regions. Somali region was most affected. Some 347,000 people have been affected countrywide, including around 200,000 displaced by flooding.  In northern Somali region, Cyclone Sagar has displaced around 54,000 people in five woredas of Siti zone (Ayshica, Dambal, Hadhagala, Gablalu and Shinile).? Humanitarian needs include WASH, health, food and NFI support.?Genale and Wabi Shabelle rivers overflowed and affected Afder, Fafan, Liben, Nogob, Siti, Shabelle, and Warder zones. Communities and farmlands are flooded and livestock affected.? 32 people have been killed by landslides due to heavy rains in SNNPR (23 people in Sidama zone and nine people in Gamo Gofa zone).?Landslides on 26 May also killed 22 people in Tullu Gola kebele, Oromia region. ?
Displacement following intercommunal conflict (4-7 Aug 2018) in Somali region


The Ethiopian government has officially spoken to reports about alleged withdrawal of its troops from the frontline with neighbouring Eritrea.

Some media reports late last week said Ethiopian troops were seen leaving the town of Shiraro, a key front in the Ethio-Eritrea war, the town is close to the town of Badme, a central contention of the war.

But Defense Minister, Motumma Mekassa in an interview on Saturday with the Reporter newspaper said the movement of troops was a “normal routine for the military and nothing else.”

He added that: “there are no formal agreements between the two countries as far as withdrawing of troops is concerned.”

This is the second time the issue of troop withdrawal from the front lines have surfaced since leaders of the two countries signed a peace deal in Asmara in early July.

Reuters news agency citing local media in Eritrea reported that troops of the country had began withdrawing from the disputed area which have since the end of the war been highly militarized.

The Ethio-Eritrea peace deal followed a decision by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to accept and implement a border ruling in relation to disputed territories between the two countries.

Abiy traveled to Asmara in July for talks that led to the cessation of hostilities between the two nations. It also marked the restoration of all diplomatic and trade ties between them.

Telephone lines have been restored, both sides have named ambassadors even though Ethiopia is yet to reopen its embassy in Asmara. The respective national airlines have began operations after two decades and families have since been united.

The withdrawal of troops and the subsequent demilitarization of the disputed territories is one of the eagerly awaited legs of the normalization of ties.

Currently PM Abiy continues with fast-paced democratic reforms at home despite security challenges whiles Eritrea also continues to reset its regional diplomatic affairs. After Abiy’s visit, Somali and South Sudan leaders have also visited.

By Idil Osman

In the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian and Somali migrants have charted a new route to the Gulf.

Refugees and migrants line up on a Somalia beach to board the boats that will take them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. In a military style operation, the passengers board the small smugglers’ boats in groups of 10. The overcrowded boats can take days to cross. Credit: Alixandra Fazzina.

Refugees and migrants line up on a Somalia beach to board the boats that will take them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. The overcrowded boats can take days to cross. Credit: UNHCR/Alixandra Fazzina.

This is the third part of The Thin Red Line, an African Arguments series focusing on dynamics around the Red Sea.

When Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2015, it was widely expected that migration to the country would nosedive. Typically when a nation goes to war, outsiders stay away for obvious reasons. But in Yemen’s case, the ongoing deadly instability was not enough to deter the 100,000 people that arrived last year or the 117,000 who arrived in 2016. Despite widespread insecurity that has led more than two million Yemenis to flee their homes, migrants continue to disembark on the Gulf nation’s war-torn shores.

Most are from the Horn of Africa. People from this region have been making this journey for decades for trade, religious pilgrimage, economic opportunities, or in times of emergency. The surge in the oil market in the 1970s precipitated a sudden demand for unskilled workers in the Arab Peninsula, and labour migrants have been coming to Yemen since its unification in the early-1990s.

Many of today’s migrants are driven by the same motivations as their predecessors, but there are also important dynamics at play that are unique to now and that are responsible for the continued flows in the face of great dangers. Although happening below the surface and rarely examined, these often perilous and fraught movements of people form a crucial human bond that links the Horn of Africa and the Gulf across the thin Red Sea.

Who is leaving and where?

The first question regarding migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and beyond is why people are leaving their homes in the first place. The answer depends on the country.

In Ethiopia, political instability and land scarcity have contributed to a growing number of people leaving the country in the past few years. In Eritrea, indefinite national service and political repression are consistent push factors for the thousands that flee every month. And in Somalia, ongoing insecurity and recurring drought are often cited as the main reasons for departing. But in almost all cases, the hope of greater economic opportunity – and knowing people who have made the journeys before – is also a key factor.

“I chose to migrate because in my youth I have often seen young people in my neighbourhood who succeeded in becoming rich through migration,” said one Ethiopian migrant. “My wife insisted that we leave and search for a better life, rather than staying and living in poor conditions,” explained another.

Of the millions of people in the region that migrate, the majority move internally or to neighbouring countries. Many others travel up the treacherous desert to the North African coast, with Europe the final destination. But hundreds of thousands decide to traverse the Red Sea.

One reason for this is that the Gulf is now part of a new path from the Horn of Africa to Europe. This route allows migrants starting in Somalia to bypass Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea by travelling instead from Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in north-east Somalia, across the sea to Yemen. From here, migrants cross back to Sudan and continue over land.

This route is particularly popular among young Somali men from relatively affluent backgrounds, but a number of Ethiopians also follow this course. First cited in 2015, this journey has grown in popularity. The networks and support structures that facilitate this movement have strengthened significantly, making the route easier – if still highly perilous – to navigate. Smugglers have also started offering tempting “leave now, pay later” schemes. Increased border controls in Sudan and Ethiopia in the wake of insecurity have also added reasons to try circumventing these countries.

Those who stay

Not all migrants who head to the Gulf, however, are on their way to Europe. Some intend to stay in Yemen, seeking jobs in the khat or farming industry or as domestic or low-skilled workers. Others hope to continue on to other more prosperous Gulf States, which are less expensive to reach than Europe.

The most popular destination is Saudi Arabia, where many Ethiopians take up low-skilled or manual jobs in often deplorable conditions. “Migrants’ living conditions are horrible, inhuman. Their rights are not respected,” said one informant. Nonetheless, there are an estimated 400,000 undocumented Ethiopian migrants currently working in Saudi Arabia.

Other migrants who reach Yemen seek asylum. Somalis, for example, enjoy prima facie refugee status in the country. In 2015, there were almost 250,000 Somali refugees in the country, living in camps or urban areas.

Finally, some who end up in Yemen simply find themselves trapped there, their journeys cut short by conflict or lack of funds.

Some migrants eventually return to the Horn of Africa, creating a flow of people back to the continent that also includes tens of thousands of Yemenis. These Gulf migrants rarely have strong diasporic connections to the region and so typically try to settle in Djibouti or Somalia, which are closer and therefore cheaper to reach. Smaller numbers who can afford it try to get to Ethiopia or Sudan, but many more affluent Yemenis opt to travel to the likes of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or India.

Why the route remains popular

Governments in the region have tried to reduce these irregular flows through regulations, border controls and public awareness campaigns. In 2013, Ethiopia went a step further by banning domestic workers from going to the Middle East in order to protect its citizens from abuse. This decision came shortly after Saudi Arabia deported over a hundred thousand Ethiopians in a violent crackdown on undocumented workers.

The ban, however, did little to stop migration to the Gulf. Its main effect was to force Ethiopian migrants to take more irregular routes in which they are more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and death. The prohibition was lifted in February 2018.

The popularity of travelling to Yemen has also been largely unaffected by greater restrictions, clampdowns on smugglers, and tighter border controls. In 2016, these measures significantly reduced the numbers of Ethiopians travelling overland to North Africa, but did little to dissuade migrants crossing the sea to the Gulf. The flow of Red Sea arrivals from Djibouti and Somalia held steady, while the number of Ethiopians arriving in Yemen actually increased. The illegal networks facilitating these movements remain resilient and far-reaching.

Even the 2015 outbreak of war in Yemen has not significantly deterred migrants. In fact, many have been encouraged by the breakdown of state institutions in Yemen and subsequent lack of policy and control. They believe (or are led to believe by smugglers) that this vacuum provides an opportunity to enter, travel through, and exit the country unnoticed. The deteriorating situation and lack of legal routes has also helped smugglers and traffickers establish profitable, exploitative and abusive networks that can operate with relative impunity.

“Previously, migration was simple and normal,” said an ex-smuggler in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. “A smuggler was just like a guide who assists you and receives a wage in return. Nowadays, it is different. Smuggling is an organised network of selling humans. This change is due to the greed of smugglers and those who buy and sell human beings.”

Despite the dangers of the routes taken, the often deplorable and traumatic conditions on arrival, and campaigns aimed at deterring migrants, the flow of people from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf remains strong. Moreover, most people who take these journeys do not seem to regret their decisions. As a key informant in Sana’a put it: “If the benefit of migration is measured by the simple amounts that migrants make as income, transfer, and save, then they have benefited”.

These startling and worrying realities call for a different understanding of, and approach to, migration between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. As thousands continue to migrate in the face of countless threats and hazards that are often made even graver by blunt government measures, policymakers must examine the real effects of their actions on the individuals involved. Rather than repeating the same failed and dangerous policies, they should consider a coordinated approach that protects and assists migrants and expands opportunities for safe regular movement.