End “genocide” against Afars, Eritrean refugees urge
(Berahle, ETHIOPIA) – Thousands of Eritrean Afar refugees demonstrated at Berahle refugee camp located in Ethiopia’s Afar region only few kilometers away from the Eritrean border.
An estimated 3,000 refugees held the demonstration to protest against what they allege is an alleged genocide being committed by the totalitarian Asmara government against the Afar minority group.
“We call up on the United Nations and the international community to protect Eritrean Afars from an ethnic cleansing by the brutal regime” the refugees said in a declaration.
The refugees chanted; “yes to self determination, Nno to tyranny and injustice”; “save Eritrea from civil war”; “bring down Isaias Afeworki”; and “we are victims of brutal regime”.
Rashid Saleh, the chairman of the Afar refugees youth association at Berahle camp was one of the demonstrations organisers. He fled to Ethiopia late in 2011.
The 27-year-old said he decided flee to Ethiopia after he received repeated threats on his life from government agents.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune, Rashid said he served a year and eight months behind bars at a secret detention center near Massawa port after being suspected that he is a member Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO), a rebel group based in Ethiopia.
He said there were 180 political prisoners at the prison facility, where he alleged prisoners were denied food, access to toilets and tortured on daily basis in a bid to extract information.
He said the international community has ignored repeated calls from Eritreans while they are being slaughtered by the dictatorial regime.
“We held the demos in connection with the celebrations the 22nd anniversary of Eritrean independence day and thereby to call on the international community to give attention over Eritrean refugees” Rashid told Sudan Tribune.
The one party state, also referred as the “North Korea of Africa,” has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki and his Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party since the country proclaimed independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after 31 years of revolutionary movement.
“Although Eritrea gained independence over 20 years ago, the people of Eritrea however aren’t yet liberated”, he added.
Afwerki’s regime has a zero-tolerance policy to dissidents and targets any citizen in suspected of being against the regime.
Currently there are an estimated 5,000 political prisoners in Eritrea who are being locked in harsh prison centers including in shipping containers where they are tortured and abused both mentally and physically.
Others are summarily executed by prison guards, according to refugees who have escaped the country.
Thousands of young Eritreans risk their life trying to escape to neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan in protest against the government’s repressive policies and to avoid compulsory military services that can last decades.
Many others become prime targets for human traffickers operating in East Africa.
Over 200,000 Eritreans have fled Eritrea to neighbouring countries. In Ethiopia alone there are nearly 70,000 Eritrean refugees.
Amina Abdul-Semed, 28, was a eight months pregnant when she crossed into Ethiopia, one month after her husband, who was suspected of ties with the rebels, also crossed the border.
Amina arrived at Ethiopia’s Berahle camp in 2010 with four of her children. She decided to flee after government agents repeatedly came to her home and beat her to confess the whereabouts of her husbands.
“It was extremely difficult to flee along with my four children however I had no choice”, she told Sudan Tribune.
Amina gave birth to her child at Berahle camp and her daughter is now nearly three years old.
Established in 2008, Berahle camp is cited at the barren Afar region where volcanoes are active.
The desert area where temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius are extremely difficult for refugees particularly for children and mothers to live in for years.
Sudan Tribune has witnessed that the camp has no proper sanitation. Supplies of food, water and appropriate shelters remain a major concern.
Refugees said humanitarian agencies has gave little attention to refugees at Berahle camp compared to other camps else where in Ethiopia.
According to Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) on average 25 Eritrean refugees arrive in the camp ever day.
Zeineb Saleh, 20, arrived at the camp on Saturday with three of her children, one of whom is only three years old.
Zeineb said security forces beaten and took her husband while he was asleep at home and she decided to escape before they took her as well.
“I kneel down and begged them to leave him alone but they beat me and one of them said he will return to collect me” she said adding “I had to disappear shortly before they get back”.
In collaboration with International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the Ethiopian government has resettled thousands of Eritrean refugees to a third country during the past five years.
The refugees at Berahle camp have never been benefited of third country resettlement program. However ARRA said the refugees will be beneficiaries of the program soon.
Abey Girma who is ARRA’s coordinator at the camp told Sudan Tribune that an opportunity for 60 refugees has been secured from Australian government.
He added the program of resettlement will continue for others as well. Currently there are over 5,200 Eritrean Afar refugees at the camp.
CALL FOR JUSTICE
Meanwhile an exiled Eritrean opposition group has called on the international community to intervene on the ongoing atrocities against innocent Eritreans.
“The international community has failed to protect Eritreans from mass murder by the brutal regime” said Nessredin Mohamed, an official of the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO).
“We renew our calls on the international community to take actions in bringing the president and his inner circles to the International Criminal Court”.