Facing the woes of Vulnerability

Radio Erena: 09 February 2021

As if they have jumped from a frying pan to a hellfire, the Eritrean refugees in Tigray face a horrific humanitarian crisis.

Like in a horror movie, the recent war has conjured all the terror that forced them to leave their country in the first place. The reasons which forced them to flee were certainly less than the destruction of a large- scale war, yet the perils they are facing today are no less disastrous.

They have initially escaped from the forced draft, ban on movement and travel, and other grave abuses, now, and all of the sudden; they have found themselves face to face with those who made them victims to such abuses: the Eritrean defense and security forces, in a situation of complete helplessness.

The approximate number of Eritrean refugees in the Hitsas, Shimelba, Mai Aini, and Adi Hurush camps in Tigray was estimated by UNCHR at 90,000. Mr. Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner of Refugees, visited the Mai Aini camp at the end of January. In a press statement in Addis Ababa on 1 February, he recounted the perilous situation in the camp, (he couldn’t visit the rest of the camps).

The refugees in Mai Aini spoke to the Commissioner, what they have told him to deserve to be quoted in full:

“They reported that they had been cut off, as we know, from support and assistance for several weeks.  Some of them told us and told the Minister (the Ethiopian Minister of Peace) that they had resorted to eating leaves because there was no other food, but they also spoke about, especially at the beginning as I said being caught in the crossfire that was at the beginning of the military operation, and they also spoke of infiltration of armed actors in the camps, of killings, abductions and also some forced return to Eritrea at the hands of Eritrean forces present in the areas.  Others reported that other refugees had chosen themselves to return to Eritrea given the insecurity prevailing in the area.”

The Eritrean security forces’ abuses against these refugees have sparked an increasing external pressure for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray.

Earlier, Radio Erena obtained eyewitnesses’ statements of tens of Eritrean refugees who were forced by the Ethiopian security forces to return to the refugee camps. Right after things went out of control in the refugees’ camps, hundreds of young men and women escaped to Addis Ababa and Gondar. There, they were rounded up by the Ethiopian security forces, crammed into military trucks, and taken back to the camps. Those who didn’t leave the camps were warned not to leave for any other destination.

Those who made it to Sudan along with thousands of Tigrayans spoke of grave abuses against the refugees including abduction, rape, and forced disappearance. Although some Eritrean activists and sympathizers have conducted solidarity demonstrations for the refugees, the overall response to their tragedy is much less than the awaited and hoped.

Civilians have always been the permanent victims of conflicts, the Eritrean refugees in Tigray represents the weakest group in the on-going conflict, no wonder that some of them didn’t find a way out but to return to the inferno from which they have already escaped before.

By Fathi Osman