By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 12, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Some Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia say the government’s “out of camp policy”, which relaxed restrictions on Eritrean refugees has encouraged them against taking the desperate and dangerous sea crossings to Europe.
Introduced in Ethiopia in 2010, the policy provides Eritrean refugees an opportunity to live in Addis Ababa and other towns of their choices if they have the necessary means to financially support themselves.
Although Ethiopia only records numbers of arrivals and not those living in the capital, Addis Ababa alone, an estimated 8,000 Eritrean refugees are currently taking advantage of the policy.
Any Eritrean refugee in Ethiopia can be benefited by the “Out of Camp Policy provided that the individual has no criminal records while being sheltered in a camp.
A number of Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa said the policy has encouraged many of them to remain in Ethiopia than risking their lives taking dangerous sea route to Europe.
“Previously I had plans to take dangerous journey to reach Europe via Sudan and Libyan Desert; but I dropped my decision after I was granted a work-permit that would allow me to be out of camp”, Baraki Tesfatsion told Sudan Tribune from the Ethiopian capital.
Baraki, 32 currently works at a workshop where he earns money to support himself.
“I would rather stay here in Ethiopia until the repressive regime is overthrown and a democratic government is replaced”, he argued, further stressing that he would rather try to process a legal visa to Europe than take dangerous and illegal journey.
Baraki said one of his friends perished while trying to reach Italy via the Mediterranean Sea last year.
PERIL ROUTE CONSEQUENCE
Every month, thousands of Eritreans flee to neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan to escape different forms of rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, indefinite national service, incommunicado detention, arbitrary arrest and torture.
The Red Sea nation has long-standing shoot-to-kill policy targeting those attempting to flee their own country and many have been shot to death by their own border guards.
According to Eritrean refugees, those caught to sneak out are thrown into inhuman prison facilities where they will be tortured and ultimately accused of treason, a charge punishable by death.
Most of them prefer to cross the Mediterranean Sea mainly heading to Italy for better life however thousands has drowned and lost their lives in the Mediterranean.
Bereket Yisak, who returned back to Ethiopia after he fail to succeed reaching Israel told Sudan Tribune that many Eritreans who fall in the hands unscrupulous human traffickers are taken hostage and their family back at home are asked to pay ransom of an average $15,000 per head for their release.
If their relatives fail to pay, he said, Eritrean hostages will be tortured to death or else parts of their organs such as Kidneys will be harvested and are sold to people in need of it in wealthier nations.
According to Bereket, a lot of Eritrean refugees are abducted in Sudan and taken to Sinai where captors decide on the fate of the hostage. He adviced Eritreans to refrain from using smuggling trail.
“They must think not only twice but hundred times before making the decision”, warned Bereket.
Since 2014, the number of Eritreans seeking asylum in Europe particularly in Italy has soared making them the second largest group – after Syrians – to arrive in the European nation by boat; according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
BENEFITS OF “OUT OF CAMP POLICY”
Refugees in Addis Ababa say they are better off in Ethiopia under the out of camp policy and they say the scheme has restrained tendency of considerable number Eritrean refugees from taking peril journeys to Sudan, Libya or further to Europe.
The refugees added they have benefited a lot from the governments “out of camp policy”
According to the refugees, the scheme has helped them find jobs in the informal sector.
“We are being treated here very well here. I am currently working in different places as an electrician. I earn good money”, said 27-year old Gideon Samuel.
“At the camps we had nothing to do but the out of camp policy has given us freedom of movement enabling us to work and support ourselves and not to be dependent on the government or Aid agencies”, added Gideon.
He further said, living in cities has enabled refugees to improve their access to a lot of services which are not available at camps.
UNHCR’s spokesperson in Ethiopia, Kisut Gebreegziabher, says the Out of camp policy has been a source of relief for thousands of self-supporting Eritrean refugees who would otherwise have been confined to the refugee camps.
“The out of camp policy is very much in line with UNHCR’s global ‘alternative to camps’ policy and as such a very commendable measure taken by the Ethiopian government in favor of refugees”, Kisut told Sudan Tribune.
The out-of-camp policy is a welcome exception to the government policy which expects all refugees to be accommodated in refugee camps.
According to the UNHCR official, the refugees who have made use of the opportunity are benefitting in many ways including enjoying freedom of movement, pursuit of education, tertiary education, as well as work in the informal sector and earning some income.
The new policy has also allowed many to learn in skills training and has further opened educational opportunities enabling many to join higher institution.
A significant number of qualifying Eritrean refugees are studying in many government colleges and universities, including some attending for their graduate studies.
“The qualifications and knowledge that they gain in Ethiopia are not only meant to serve the refugees while in exile”.
“They will prove even better in the post-exile period when their knowledge and skills will be most needed for the reconstruction and development of their countries” Kisut added.
The scheme has also allowed Eritrean refugees to live closely with their relatives and friends who similarly took refugee in Ethiopia.
According to political analysts, the program, exclusive to Eritrean refugees is also playing a significant role in bridging the people to people ties between sisterly countries.
It also helps refugees to build bridges with host communities.
UNHCR’s ‘alternative to camps’ policy advocates that refugees throughout the world be kept outside of refugee camps and live alongside their hosting communities.
“That way, they can not only interact with their hosts but also benefit from existing opportunities and become productive global citizens” said Kisut.
According to him, the out-of-camp policy is very much in line with the alternative to camps policy, UNHCR has been and continues to advocate with the Ethiopian government to ensure that the policy is expanded to other refugee groups in the country.
“We hope that the policy will be expanded to refugees from other nationalities generously hosted by Ethiopia” he added.
THIRD COUNTRY RESETTLEMENT
Previously the UN refugee agency has resettled thousands of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to different western countries under its third country resettlement program.
Despite the limited quota, third country resettlement program to Eritrean refugees remains effective both in terms meeting the needs of vulnerable groups and as a durable solution to a limited number of refugees.
UNHCR says the program is an effective means of burden-sharing whereby rich countries share the responsibility and burden with generous hosting countries such as Ethiopia.
“Of late, resettlement quotas are increasing and UNHCR is working to enhance its internal capacity to be able to meet the target in time” The UN refugee agency official said.
In 2015, nearly 6,000 refugees were submitted to resettlement countries of which Eritreans constitute about 40%.
UNHCR says there is a plan to increase resettlement opportunities for refugees in Ethiopia in the coming years, including for Eritrean refugees.
Ethiopia currently hosts a total of over 700,000 refugees of whom 170,000 are Eritrean refugees sheltered in four refugee camps in the northern Tigray region bordering Eritrea.
A party to both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and its 1967 Protocol and the 1969 Organisation of African Union (OAU) Convention, the government provides protection to refugees from 19 countries, with the majority originating from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.
Source: Sudan Tribune