Ethiopia Bears the Burden after Peace with Eritrea

Ethiopia-Eritrea-Border-OpeningJanuary 12, 2019 - Since the signing of the peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea in July, Eritreans have crossed over into Ethiopia in huge numbers. This has not only overwhelmed Ethiopian authorities but also has put the country under a lot of pressure due to the huge influx of asylum seekers.

The country is struggling to cope amid fears the recent partial closure of the border crossing on Eritrea’s side could again be made permanent.

Local authorities estimate more than 25,000 Eritreans have crossed into Ethiopia since the border was opened in September 2018. Those who arrive in Ethiopia cite different reasons. Top among them is the compulsory military service, whereas others are looking for better lives or long-lost families.

The UNHCR reports the number of refugees in Ethiopia increased upon the opening of the border crossing. The numbers registered daily has doubled. And between 12th September and 2nd October, more than 10,000 asylum seekers arrived in Ethiopia. A majority being women and children.

The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea that was opened on the 11th of September 2018, came after a significant peace agreement in July. It changed the dynamics of the two nations. But, very quickly, Eritrea’s border patrols ceased allowing people to cross over into Ethiopia without a permit or passport. At the moment, two border crossing has been closed; Rama and Zalambessa border points were closed from Eritrea’s side without any official communication.

Ethiopia hosts more than 175,000 refugees from the neighboring countries; Eritrea included. The existing refugee camps are struggling to cope with the influx witnessed since September 11th. 

Why the Rush to Ethiopia?

There was a rumor going around that even though the border crossing was opened, it would eventually be closed again. Word went round that it was opened for a few weeks or so for Eritreans. Furthermore, reports that Eritrea was hunting for defectors amplified these concerns.

The Guardian reported how Eritreans were being denied passports and official assistance at the embassy in Addis Ababa. These people wanted to travel further afield in the North to look for better opportunities and cross over into Europe to look for their loved ones.

Furthermore, the peace deal between Abiy and Afwerki elicits mixed reactions among many people because the details of the agreement remain unknown, hence provoking suspicion. Eritreans in Ethiopia fear their status might be revoked because they don’t know the details of the deal between their government and their host country.

When people flee in magnitudes from peace, not war, it is a sign they lack confidence in their leaders. Months have passed since the peace deal and Eritreans are still in shock. Bearing in mind they understand the tactics of their repressive administration too well, hence their decision to leave. They believe the future of their children lies outside Eritrea.

Many choose to send their children to refugee camps in Ethiopia as opposed to raising them at home, where they’ll live under a regime that Aljazeera reports is unpredictable.

Prior to the peace deal, Eritrean troops would turn back migrants who attempted to cross into Ethiopia. During those days, some smugglers would sneak people into Ethiopia without the authorities noticing, but at a hefty fee that many couldn’t afford to pay. The opening of the border couldn’t have come at the right time for such people.

Since Eritrea’s rapprochement with Ethiopia, Eritreans have witnessed one positive change. There has been an influx of goods as Eritrean authorities allow free movement of imports at the border crossing, devoid of taxes or any presupposed conditions.

Despite these developments, there’s no guarantee Ethiopians will set up businesses in Eritrea, and this influx of refugees and asylum seekers will continue as far as Ethiopian authorities are concerned.

Once Eritrea starts taxing Ethiopian products, the situation will go back to normal. Eritreans will continue facing serious scarcity of basic commodities. And they’ll continue seeking better alternatives from the neighboring countries.

The International Community Watches:

Eritreans who arrive in Ethiopia are not getting things easy either. The global community ‘pretends’ that since the peace deal was signed, things have improved in Eritrea. That’s why the UNHCR doesn’t take it as a priority to help these individuals move on with their lives or even settle them in a different country.

And, unlike in the neighboring countries where asylum seekers from Eritrea were able to obtain passports by signing an apology letter after fleeing their home country, this has not been the case in Ethiopia. Many feel the embassy in Addis Ababa should make it easy for them to get the relevant travel documents.

While people are leaving Eritrea for Ethiopia due to different reasons, others plan to go back someday. A decision that is unusual bearing in mind the current regime’s oppressive tactics. Others consider Ethiopia as a stopover, they will, later on, try to go to Europe.

Final Thoughts:

Ethiopia continues to burden from the influx of asylum seekers from Eritrea as the international community turns a blind eye. This happens at a time when a peace deal was signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but six months down the line, and into the year 2019, there is no talk about reforms in Eritrea, a development that worries a majority of its citizens.

Until Eritrea deals with its in-house problems, many more people will simply leave for good, and their first destination remains Ethiopia. Despite the signs that Eritrea is willing to make some improvements, there isn’t any concrete action yet.

Ethiopia will be forced to allocate resources to cater for its neighbors, who are flocking among other cities the capital; Addis Ababa. What will happen next? No one knows, but one thing remains, Ethiopia will continue bearing the burden of Eritrea’s migrants.

By Solomon O. for Ezega News


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