Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia now face the risk of being repatriated. The government of Addis Ababa no longer considers them in need of humanitarian protection. Ethiopia no longer plans to welcome women, children and men fleeing the Asmara regime in refugee camps (unless they are somehow linked to the Eritrean armed forces).
Abba Mussie Zerai, an Ethiopian Catholic priest of the eparchy of Asmara said: "We are currently experiencing a delicate situation, a consequence of the agreement signed in 2018 between the two nations.
"What was hoped could be an agreement capable of guaranteeing peace and development in the region, is in fact turning into a nightmare for many Eritreans who cannot return to their homeland.
"This situation and the closure of one of the four refugee camps which hosts over 15,000 people has produced many urban refugees without any form of protection without rights. In Tigrai (the northern region bordering Eritrea) thousands of Eritreans often reduced to hunger, are exposed to all forms of exploitation and abuse. The most vulnerable people are women and minors. Unaccompanied minors especially run the risk of ending up victims of sexual predators, reduced to slavery work."
Fr Zerai said the situation the refugees were increasingly becoming prey to traffickers. Conditions in the camps in Ethiopia are so poor for the Eritrean refugees, more and more of them are making the exodus to Sudan and Libya.
Refugees who have arrived near urban centres also suffer, he said. In addition to the loss of rights, they also have to face the pandemic and the very high cost of living. Eritreans are thus victims of exploitation, prostitution and deprivation.
Fr Mussie appeals to the Ethiopian government to respect the international obligations they have signed up to that protect the rights of children and the rights of refugees.
"We ask the European Union to invest resources in order to welcome these Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia with dignity. Otherwise the exodus to Europe will increase, with the sad death toll in the desert and in the Mediterranean Sea."
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