No Border Wall for Ethiopia, an Open Door – Even for Eritrea

eritrean-refugees-in-ethiopia
Eritrean teenagers and young men, aged from 16 to 20, waiting at the Badme entry point to be moved to the screening registration center. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

ADINBRIED, Ethiopia, Jun 22 2017 (IPS) – It’s one thing to read about the exodus of souls flowing out of Eritrea, it’s quite another to look into the tired eyes, surrounded by dust and grime, of a 14-year-old Eritrean girl who’s just arrived on the Ethiopian side of the shared border.

She is carrying a scruffy plastic bag. Inside are a few clothes, an orange beaker, and a small torch whose batteries have nearly run out.

With her are four men, two women and five younger children, all of whom crossed the Eritrea-Ethiopia border the night before. Ethiopian soldiers found them and took them to the town of Adinbried.

The compound of simple government buildings where they were dropped off constitutes a so-called entry point, one of 12 along the border. It marks the beginning of the bureaucratic and logistical conveyor belt to assign asylum status to those arriving, before finally moving them to one of four refugee camps designated for Eritreans in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“It took us four days traveling from Asmara,” a 31-year-man among the group says about their trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80 kilometres north of the border. “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.”

In February 2017, 3,367 Eritrean refugees arrived in Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA). There are around 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, according to the UN refugee agency.

Ethiopia’s open-door policy is in marked contrast to the strategies of migrant reduction increasingly being adopted in many Western societies.

And its stance is all the more striking due to the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments forever accusing the one of plotting against the other amid an atmosphere of mutual loathing.

But it appears the Ethiopian government is willing to treat ordinary Eritreans differently.

“We are the same people, we share the same blood, even the same grandfathers.” –Estifanos Gebremedhin, head of the legal and protection department for Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs

Read more at IPS

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