An Open Letter to the Ethiopian Authorities
We the undersigned are writing to express our grave concern of the unfortunate incident that took place on October 5 and 6, at the Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps respectively. We learned that camp attendants whom we assume are directly connected with the government security apparatus has opened fire on innocent and unarmed refugees causing one fatality and many serious injuries.
According to our informants many of the refugees were in the process of demonstrating in the open to register their grievances. It goes without saying that peaceful demonstration is universally recognized practice that signatories of the UN charter have pledged to respect. In line with this argument it was unnecessary to use deadly force to quieting the voices of the helpless. Once again we are not fully aware of the events surrounding the attack of the security guards on the demonstrating refugees to make an informed judgment. It is precisely because of this that we are requesting an investigative body is appointed to look into what went wrong on October 5 and 6, to cause harm including the imprisonment of up to 270 refugees. We view the formation of the body very important because each would know what is expected of him to avert similar incident from happening again.
One of the things that we want to avoid completely is a rift between our two peoples. As Eritreans we are appreciative of your support. It is not lost in well meaning Eritreans that Ethiopia has been a generous host to tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees; we are also grateful for your generous offer in the field of education to young refugees and your positive response to the plight of Eritrean refugees forcibly removed from Egypt and other countries to be repatriated in your country.
Due to the unbearable and horrendous human rights situations in Eritrea, and the indefinite national services imposed on the nation, the youth in particular are fleeing to neighboring countries including Ethiopia. Most of those fleeing the persecution have dreams, like any of us, and those dreams are to live free of fears and servitude while being able to study, work and move freely without harassment of any sort.
Despite all the good efforts by your government, the living conditions of refugees at the camps remain very difficult, hence for the demonstration that took place in early October. We are all aware that each refugee in the camps receives a mere 15 kilo of cereal, one kilo of lentils, one liter of oil and a bar soap that will last him/her for month. As refugees are not allowed to work, many have to sell part of the ration to secure money so as to be able grind the raw cereal and purchase basic necessities of life such as clothes, shoes, etc. Many are on the verge of starvation and quiet few are malnourished, and tragically some have been living in such a condition for more than 7 years. Although the responsibility of maintaining the refugees is shared with the UNHCR, we believe that your government could help alleviate their suffering by allowing them integrate, move freely across the country and be able to work instead of keeping them in isolation, in remote areas of Tigray Region. The government’s living-out-of-camp policy is exclusive and very difficult to obtain permission to exploit that opportunity. That also has to be reviewed and make it easy for people who can live outside the camp with the support of their families can do so.
Last, but not least, certain sources in Ethiopia seem to be under the erroneous impression that the vocal refugees are Eritrean government agents controlled by the government itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All refugees from Eritrea are effectively criminalized by the Eritrean government – they receive no support whatsoever, moral or monetary; on the contrary, the Eritrean government has long washed its hands of any responsibility on those leaving the country illegally that it deemed delinquent. The fact remains that the Eritrean people in particular the youth is leaving the country in droves to escape the harsh rule imposed by an autocratic regime lead by Mr. Isaias Afewerki. In this regard we certainly are grateful that the Ethiopian government is extending its hand to receive victims of this vicious government.
However, we implore upon the Ethiopian authorities to take the next logical step by making their lives bearable, that is, making the camps more hospitable, and not confinement lot. Thus, the fateful demonstration of October 5 and 7 at Mai aini and Adu Harish camps cannot be viewed outside this context. We must not be oblivious of the Eritrean government’s treachery to disseminate false information in order to create havoc on the tattered life of the refugees sheltered in Ethiopia. Disseminating such kind of false information could only justify and lead to the unfair punishment of innocent refugees who simply want enough food to eat, a roof over their heads, and the opportunity to work and live peacefully. We are sure that those needs are understood by the Ethiopian government.
Finally we would like to underscore the fact that the current unrest, and the frustrations at the refugee camps are symptoms, but not the root causes of the problem that need to be looked at and addressed by your government and the UNHCR together in order to avoid similar incidents from happening again.
Dr. Yebio Woldemariam and Meron Estifanos
International Commission on Eritrean Refugees
Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE)
Fr. Mussie Zerai
cc. Mr Antonio Guterres