Representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday, the 5th of December 2018, met with 24 members (12 females and 12 males) of the Eritrean refugee community in Cairo to discuss about the current situation in Eritrea and the benefits of the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia as well as the change they want to see in order to return to their country.
UNHCR representatives started their conversation with
Part of our tasks is to monitor protection conditions [for refugees and asylum seekers] and everyone under our protection is not forced to return to his country without his will. But we need to understand whether people want to return or not. Last year, 400,000 Syrian refugees returned to their country but they did not find safety and protection. We were surprised by this large number who returned and we were not ready to return them, hence we liked to hear your opinions and expectations in the near future.
But the Eritrean refugees’ response was united and against the idea of returning to Eritrea. They replied that their problem is not the lack of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia but the ruling regime in Eritrea itself. They underscored that all aspects of Human rights are violated. There are no freedom of movement, education, and other personal liberties, no freedom of movement- to move to the nearest village one needs to have a movement permit or else he/she is detained for not possessing movement permit. And that people are being forced to work without payment under slave like conditions and subjected to detention and tortures under the national service programme.
Besides the participants from the Eritrean refugee community highlighted that even the objective of the 1998 -2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that claimed about 30,000 Eritrean lives is not known to date to the Eritrean people. They further reminded the UNHCR representatives that this peace agreement is aimed at achieving political goals.
They elaborated that nothing has changed since peace between the two countries has been restored and that to the contrary people are leaving Eritrea in mass and that many people have been detained recently, since the peace agreement between the two countries.
They noted the bad experience that people had returned to Eritrea after independence but had to leave again the country through the help of human smugglers to escape human right violations in the country. They elaborated that the Education system has been destroyed, the university was closed and teachers are forced to work without payments; the economy was destroyed by the banning of trade and investments, and the seizure of money of the people.
It was reported in the meeting that the problems and sufferings in Eritrea are taking new forms after the restoration of peace as there are a few Eritrean merchants and scarcity of resources hence the Eritrean markets are now controlled by Ethiopians and even the commercial places were given to them.
The Eritrean refugees asked UNHCR representatives as to why they have to consider repatriation for Eritreans under such circumstances rather than focusing on providing adequate protection and education opportunities to the Eritrean refugees.
The UNHCR representatives on their turn clarified their position highlighting the purpose of the exercise was to gather the views opinion of Eritrean refugees in Egypt regarding the new development in Eritrea but that this should not in any way be interpreted that the UNHCR has the intention of repatriating the Eritrean refugees forcefully.
Finally the meeting concluded with good understanding and good spirit.