By Habte Hagos
Eritrea Focus has received very worrying information that the Ethiopian Federal Government is in the process of adopting “Exclusion Criteria” for Eritreans seeking asylum in the country. Our sources have asked to remain anonymous, but we regard them as credible. The “Exclusion Criteria” are currently being applied at “collection centres” i.e. refugees comps where asylum seekers are placed for refugee status assessment.
The “Exclusion Criteria” include the following. They are not exhaustive and apparently not officially documented either, although they are being applied:
- Unaccompanied and separated minors;
- Persons within the age of conscription in Eritrea [This criterion seems to be all enveloping as almost all Eritreans from their teens are indefinitely conscripted to the National Service];
- Persons who access Ethiopia to seek medical care;
- Persons who have crossed the border on repeated occasions, regardless of whether or not they have sought asylum in Ethiopia before; and
- Persons wishing to reunite with family members in a third country.
These criteria are so severe that they appear to amount to the rejection of all Eritrean claims for asylum. It is far from clear what sanctions the Ethiopian government intends to apply to Eritreans who fail the five tests.
If these criteria are brought into force, they would not only violate the Ethiopian government’s legal requirements under the international conventions relating to refugees, they would be a reversal of Ethiopian policy dating back many decades. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have a history of giving sanctuary to those who flee persecution and injustice. They would also severely disrupt family ties, trade and social relations among villages scattered all along the 1,000 kilometre long border.
As part of the “Exclusion Criteria” the number of entry points to Ethiopia for Eritrean asylum seekers has been reduced from 18 to 3. The closure of Hitsat refugee camp that is designed for 11,000 refugees, but currently hosts 18,000 Eritreans, is expected to proceed next month with the refugees moving to Mai Ayni and Adharush. These camps are already badly overcrowded , far exceed their limits and facing acute shelter shortages. If the Ethiopian security forces attempt to enforce the closure of Hitsat they could provoke stiff resistance from the camp’s inhabitants.
The most immediate concern is vulnerability of refugees to the novel coronavirus in overcrowded facilities. Furthermore, the closing of Hitsats may lead to increase in secondary migration, which will endanger the Ethiopian Government’s action to contain the spread of COVID-19.
For additional information, please refer to the attached document “Looming closure of 11.000 -person refugee camp in the Tigray region of Ethiopia amid COVID-19 threat” – below.
28 March 2020
Habte Hagos, Chair, Eritrea Focus