Eritrea’s failure to efficiently respond to the pandemic could bring down its authoritarian government.
The coronavirus pandemic will likely spell trouble for Eritrea’s authoritarian government led by President Isaias Afwerki, writes Zere [Feisal Omar/Reuters]
The majority of political leaders across the world responded to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, which which has already killed more than 190,000 globally, by calling for increased international cooperation and welcoming any financial, medical and humanitarian aid that is offered to them by foreign entities to help protect their constituents.
This is why New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo happily accepted China’s proposal to send 1,000 ventilators to his state, and Italy gratefully welcomed hundreds of Cuban doctors who offered their help in the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Similarly, when the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma offered to send hundreds of ventilators as well as hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment (PPE) to 54 countries in Africa, most African leaders, such as Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, swiftly accepted the donation and expressed their gratitude.
The leaders of Eritrea, a country ranked 182/189 in the United Nations’s 2019 Human Development Index, however, surprisingly chose to reject the vital equipment Ma offered to send them. On April 5, the head of Economic Affairs for Eritrea’s ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, publicly confirmed that the Eritrean government rejected Ma’s donation. Talking as a guest speaker at the bi-weekly Hagerawi Nikhat (“national consciousness”) teleconference, an exclusive online seminar in which senior party officials get a chance to communicate with their cadres in the diaspora, the man in charge of Eritrea’s economy said the country does not want to become a “dumping site” for “unsolicited donations”. Accepting such offers would be against “the principled stance of the Eritrean government which advocates for self-reliance,” he added.
Within the very same online seminar, Gebrehiwet explained that the Eritrean leadership is now trying to buy the medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19 cases from the incredibly competitive Chinese market and arrange the shipment of these items to Eritrea on chartered planes.
Of course, despite its rejection of foreign aid, the Eritrean government does not have the necessary funds to swiftly make such purchases. As a result, it turned to its own long-suffering citizens and launched aggressive fundraising campaigns to make them donate the little money they have to the state to help the efforts to combat the virus. Thanks to these aggressive campaigns, some of Eritrea’s most penurious citizens, including members of the national service, have already been coerced to make donations. It is not yet known, however, whether these donations proved sufficient for the country to buy everything it needs to contain the spread of the virus.
While the Eritrean government undoubtedly hindered the country’s ability to respond to this public health emergency by rejecting Ma’s generous donation, this was only one example demonstrating its tendency to value its own image and survival more than the wellbeing of its constituents, even during a pandemic.
While Eritrea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, it did not escape the pandemic. The first COVID-19 case in Eritrea was reported on March 21, and, as of April 28, there are 39 confirmed cases in the country, of which 19 have recovered according to the Ministry of Health. The country has been in a nation-wide lockdown to slow the transmission of the virus since April 1.
The pandemic has not yet reached its peak in Eritrea, but all signs indicate that the country is heading for catastrophe.
Eritrea’s healthcare system is not strong enough to handle a deadly and highly infectious disease like COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, the country’s healthcare facilities had been suffering from an acute shortage of supplies. At certain times, patients have even been asked to buy intravenous (IV) infusions from private pharmacies before being admitted to hospital. The Eritrean government closed all private clinics in 2009. In the second wave of state seizure that started in June 2019, it also took control of 29 Catholic hospitals, health centres and clinics. Meanwhile, the unfavourable working conditions pushed many Eritrean physicians to flee the country, causing major staff shortages in hospitals.
And lack of quality public healthcare is not the only reason why the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have catastrophic consequences for Eritrea.
Although many countries, including some developed nations, are suffering from a shortage of essential products as a result of the pandemic, the magnitude of the problem is double in the case of Eritrea where import and export businesses have been banned since 2003.
As, even during normal times, Eritreans can only buy rationed essential supplies that are on sale in the governing party’s stores, they could not stockpile to prepare for the lockdown. Moreover, even if the state miraculously managed to secure extra goods to put on sale, Eritreans would not be able to do any extra shopping as they are not allowed to withdraw more than $330 in any given month from their own savings. This, despiteEritrea being a complete cash economy.
Since the mid-2000s, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki has been spending most of his time supervising dam constructions. Yet the country’s major cities, including the capital, are still suffering from a chronic shortage of running water and electricity. In August 2018, the regime rounded up many water-tank truck owners. Many of them remain in prison. All water bottling companies were closed in June 2019. This makes it impossible for many Eritreans to follow the hygiene protocols necessary to curb the spread of the virus.
If not impossible, the regime has also made it very difficult forEritreans in diaspora to help their family members back home. Eritrean citizens living abroad are required to pay the so called “diaspora tax” first if they want to send goods to their home country. Wiring money back to Eritrea is also not easy for members of the diaspora, as they are forced to use an extremely deflated fixed currency rate imposed by the government to do so.
Eritreans are also suffering from a lack of political leadership during this difficult time. While the leaders of most countries are doing daily briefings to inform their citizens on the latest developments about the pandemic, President Isaias has not spoken to the Eritrean people or media for almost two months after giving an interview to the state-run media in mid-February, in which he did not even mention the growing threat posed by the new coronavirus. His prolonged absence from public life led to rumours that he is incapacitated or even dead.
Inside sources told me the president was in the port-city of Massawa during his months of absence from public life, as he reportedly plans to relocate his temporary office to Gedem, near Massawa. Sources close to the matter also told me that it has been very difficult to get hold of him during this time. In an extremely centralised system, where senior state officials cannot make the smallest decision without the president’s approval, one can only imagine the damage caused by Afwerki’s absence during such a crucial time.
After his prolonged absence, on April 18, the president suddenly sent a five-minute recorded message to the Eritrean people from an unknown location. Afwerki only mentioned the pandemic in the introduction of his message and went on to tell his constituents that COVID-19 should not “derail the development programmes” his leadership has embarked on. The president’s message made it clear that the pandemic is just a secondary concern for the government. The Ministry of Information, however, only translated into English the short section of the message where the president mentioned the pandemic.
As it became clear that Eritrea is not going to be able to protect its citizens from COVID-19, rights groups, exiled scholars, and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, have called on the Eritrean government to release the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience who have long been languishing in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. Many also expressed concern about the thousands of students who are living in cramped conditions at the Sawa military training centre.
During his online seminar, Gebrehiwet also responded to these calls, brushing them off as “hypocritical”. Rather than offering an explanation as to how they are planning to stop the virus from spreading like wildfire in prisons and military schools, he claimed these would be the best places for anyone who needs to be in quarantine.
In response to the growing criticism of its COVID-19 response and concerns over the wellbeing of its citizens, the Eritrean government issued a statement on April 6, accusing the UNHRC of “harassment” and claiming that the state’s “enemies” are using the pandemic to push for regime change.
While the accusation that rights groups, media organisations and the UN itself are using the pandemic to push for regime change in Eritrea is clearly unfounded, there is a very real chance that this public health emergency is going to spell trouble for Eritrea’s authoritarian government.
History shows that public health crises such as pandemics, food shortages or extreme pollution harm all governments, but pose the most significant threat to authoritarian regimes. The 1973-1975 Ethiopian famine, for example, was the final trigger that ended Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in the country. In Sudan, it was Omar al-Bashir’s repeated failure to handle such crises, such as the cholera outbreak of 2017 and the spike in the price of bread in 2018, that led to the demise of his 30-year regime.
The Eritrean government demonstrably failed to respond efficiently to the most significant public health threat the world has faced in a century. If it does not change its ways, accept the global community’s help and take action to save the lives of already-suffering Eritreans, it is unlikely to survive past this pandemic.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Abraham T Zere
Abraham T Zere is the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile.
April 27, 2020 at 8:59 am
document By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
With 90 countries in lockdown, four billion people are now sheltering at home from the global contagion of COVID-19. It’s a protective measure, but it brings another deadly danger. We see a shadow pandemic growing of violence against women.
As more countries report infection and lockdown, more domestic violence helplines and shelters across the world are reporting rising calls for help. In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom(1), and the United States, (2) government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society partners have flagged increasing reports of domestic violence during the crisis, and heightened demand for emergency shelter (3 ,4 ,5). Helplines in Singapore (6) and Cyprus have registered an increase in calls by more than 30 percent (7). In Australia, 40 per cent of frontline workers in a New South Wales survey reported increased requests for help with violence that was escalating in intensity(8).
Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries. And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. It’s a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors. And in parallel, as health systems are stretching to breaking point, domestic violence shelters are also reaching capacity, a service deficit made worse when centres are repurposed for additional COVID-response.
Even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.
Wide under-reporting of domestic and other forms of violence has previously made response and data gathering a challenge, with less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seeking help of any sort or reporting the crime. Less than 10 per cent of those women seeking help go to the police. The current circumstances make reporting even harder, including limitations on women’s and girls’ access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, justice and social services. These disruptions may also be compromising the care and support that survivors need, like clinical management of rape, and mental health and psycho-social support. They also fuel impunity for the perpetrators. In many countries the law is not on women’s side; 1 in 4 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.
If not dealt with, this shadow pandemic will also add to the economic impact of COVID-19. The global cost of violence against women had previously been estimated at approximately US$1.5 trillion. That figure can only be rising as violence increases now, and continues in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The increase in violence against women must be dealt with urgently with measures embedded in economic support and stimulus packages that meet the gravity and scale of the challenge and reflect the needs of women who face multiple forms of discrimination. The Secretary-General has called for all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19. Shelters and helplines for women must be considered an essential service for every country with specific funding and broad efforts made to increase awareness about their availability.
Grassroots and women’s organizations and communities have played a critical role in preventing and responding to previous crises and need to be supported strongly in their current frontline role including with funding that remains in the longer-term. Helplines, psychosocial support and online counselling should be boosted, using technology-based solutions such as SMS, online tools and networks to expand social support, and to reach women with no access to phones or internet. Police and justice services must mobilize to ensure that incidents of violence against women and girls are given high priority with no impunity for perpetrators. The private sector also has an important role to play, sharing information, alerting staff to the facts and the dangers of domestic violence and encouraging positive steps like sharing care responsibilities at home.
COVID-19 is already testing us in ways most of us have never previously experienced, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. The violence that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic is a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and shared humanity. We must not only survive the coronavirus, but emerge renewed, with women as a powerful force at the centre of recovery.
There have been lots of queries about what Britain is doing.
To avoid any doubt, I am posting screenshots of the advice that was on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website yesterday.
I make no reference to the many rumours swirling around about the situation inside Eritrea.
Please note: there have been a series of articles with different reports on the situation. See previous posts.
Residents express deep concern about planned relocation as aid groups say the move risks exposure to COVID-19.
Eritrean refugee children play in the Hitsats refugee camp in the Tigray region near the Eritrean boarder [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]
Ethiopia is stepping up preparations to go ahead with a planned closure of a camp for Eritrean refugees, despite concerns among residents and calls by aid agencies to halt their relocation over coronavirus fears.
Home to some 26,000 people, including some 1,600 minors, Hitsats is one of four camps in the northern Tigray region hosting nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) announced to residents in Hitsats camp that the federal government had decided to relocate them to Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, or offer them the possibility to live in towns.
The plan has yet to be executed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but officials say preparations continue.
“We are ready to start the relocation at any time,” Eyob Awoke, deputy director general of ARRA, told Al Jazeera, noting that the declaration of a state of emergency last week due to the pandemic had forced authorities “to timely adapt the initial plan”.
“External factors are hampering us,” Eyob added, “but we can start with small numbers”.
“Hitsats refugees are suffering a lot from shortage of water, shelter and access to electricity,” Eyob said. “Merging of these camps is mainly required to ensure efficient and effective use of available resources.”
The timeline and measures for the closure have not been shared with the UNHCR and other partners.
Yet, there are concerns that Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps are almost full and lack the infrastructure needed to cope with new arrivals, including sub-standard access to water.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera on Friday, the UNHCR urged the government to put on hold any relocation effort, saying it risked making refugees vulnerable to COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“Any large-scale movement now will expose the refugees to risk of COVID-19 outbreak in camps”, the agency said.
ARRA assured that the transfer of the refugees would be carried out in a coordinated way. As of April 19, Ethiopia had 108 confirmed coronavirus cases, including three deaths.
In a letter sent to the UN at the end of March, refugees in Hitsats camp had also expressed deep concern about the prospect of the camp’s closure.
“We are in a deep fear, psychological stress and we need protection”, read the letter, which was seen by Al Jazeera.
“We feel threatened. They told us that if we decide to stay, we will lose any kind of support,” a refugee living in Hitsats camp told Al Jazeera.
Currently, only critical humanitarian and life-saving activities are running at the camp, as well as awareness-raising activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the beginning of the month, the UNHCR and the World Food Programme reported that residents in Hitsats received a food ration for April.
INSIDE STORY: Why are Eritreans fleeing their country? (23:05)
Eritrean refugees are also allowed to live outside camps, but many do not want to leave Hitsats.
Other refugees eventually settle in the capital, Addis Ababa, but struggle to make a living and are highly dependent on external aid.
So far this year, ARRA has issued 5,000 official permits for refugees to live outside camps, according to the UNHCR, mainly for Eritreans in Hitsats and other camps in Tigray.
“In light of the current rush to close the camp, one is compelled to ponder whether the decision is more political as opposed to an operational one?” said Mehari Taddele Maru, a professor at the European University Institute.
The UNHCR, in its statement to Al Jazeera, said it could not speculate about the government’s rationale for closing the camp.
In a letter dated April 9, 2020 that was seen by Al Jazeera, ARRA communicated to all humanitarian partners that new arrivals from neighbouring Eritrea would no longer be offered “prima facie” refugee status, revisiting a longstanding policy of automatically granting all Eritrean asylum seekers the right to stay.
“We will have to narrow down the criteria for accepting Eritrean asylum claims, they have to demonstrate a personal fear of persecution based on political or religious action or association or military position”, Eyob said.
“Today, the situation is not like before, many people are coming to Ethiopia and going back to Eritrea.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sparked an historic rapprochement with Eritrea soon after taking office in April 2018, restoring ties that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war. His efforts in ending two decades of hostilities were cited by the Norwegian Nobel Committee as one of the main reasons for awarding Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
The rapprochement, however, has yet to lead to the full normalisation of the two neighbours’ ties, while activists’ hopes that the peace process would lead to major policy reforms within Eritrea have been largely dashed. The long-criticised universal conscription is still in place while crippling restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression continue.
“We cannot return to Eritrea”, a refugee in Hitsats told Al Jazeera.
“For Eritreans, fleeing is one of the only real options to escape their government’s repression”, Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said.
“Any policy shifts are definitely a risk to Eritreans’ right to asylum,” Bader said.
This difficult and depressing report comes from the UN Economic Commission for Africa. The full report can be found here.
Perhaps the most important message is that keeping 2 metres away from people we are not living with and regularly washing our hands with soap and water (don’t forget your thumbs and the backs of your hands!) are the best defences against Covid-19.
These are not easy measure, given the numbers living in informal settlements, or urban slums, as the report calls them.
Perhaps the most shocking and deeply worrying set of statistics come as a footnote to Annex 1. It the gap the Economic Commission for Africa estimates exists between the health resources Africa has at present, and what it needs.
This suggests that Africa has only half the hospital beds it needs, just 20% of the intensive care beds and none – yes none – of the ventilators and test kits the continent requires.
This is their summary.
People: Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.
Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings (excluding North Africa) and only 34 per cent of the households have access to basic hand washing facilities. In all, 71 per cent of Africa’s workforce is informally employed, and most of those cannot work from home. Close to 40 per cent of children under 5 years of age in Africa are undernourished. Of all the continents Africa has the highest prevalence of certain underlying conditions, like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. With lower ratios of hospital beds and health professionals to its population than other regions, high dependency on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products, weak legal identity systems for direct benefit transfers, and weak economies that are unable to sustain health and lockdown costs, the continent is vulnerable.
Prosperity: The impact on African economies could be the slowing of growth to 1.8 per cent in the best case scenario or a contraction of 2.6 per cent in the worst case.
This has the potential to push 27 million people into extreme poverty. Even if the spread of COVID-19 is suppressed in Africa its economic damage will be unavoidable. The price of oil, which accounts for 40 per cent of Africa’s exports, has halved, and major African exports such as textiles and fresh-cut flowers have crashed. Tourism – which accounts for up to 38 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of some African countries – has effectively halted, as has the airline industry that supports it. Collapsed businesses may never recover. Without a rapid response, Governments risk losing control and facing unrest. To protect and build towards our shared prosperity at least $100 billion is needed to immediately resource a health and social safety net response. Another $100 billion is critical for economic emergency stimulus, including a debt standstill, the financing of a special purpose vehicle for commercial debt obligations, and provision of extra liquidity for the private sector.
Partnerships: African economies are interconnected: our response must bring us together as one. The development finance institutions must at this time play an unprecedented counter-cyclical role to protect the private sector and save jobs.
We must keep trade flowing, particularly in essential medical supplies and staple foods, by fighting the urge to impose export bans. Intellectual property on medical supplies, novel testing kits and vaccines must be shared to help the continent’s private sector take its part in our response. The level of assistance that is required is unprecedented. Innovative financing facilities are needed, including a complete temporary debt standstill, enhanced access to emergency funding facilities, and the provision of liquidity lines to the private sector in Africa. We must “build back better”, by ensuring that there is an abiding climate consciousness in the rebuilding and by leveraging the digital economy. And we must be firm and clear on good governance to safeguard African health systems, ensure proper use of emergency funds, hold African businesses from collapse and reduce worker lay-offs.
A Norwegian supporter of Eritrea, the campaigner Finn Våge, has been in contact with the government of Norway about the situation of the refugees in Hitsat camp, which has been covered regularly in this blog.
Here is his letter, followed by the Norwegian government’s reply.
Eritrean Committee 27. 03 2020
To the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Development
Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed exposes refugees to major coronary danger and will deprive Eritrean refugee status. We ask our government to evaluate this on the basis of annual aid of more than NOK 500 million to Ethiopia.
1) Abiy Ahmed’s government is considering no longer registering newly arrived Eritrean refugees to Ethiopia and has deprived them of the right to apply for refugee status in violation of the Refugee Convention.
2) Hitsat’s refugee camp will be closed and 11,000 refugees – many young people and children without growing up to care for them, will be moved to another camp that lacks infrastructure and is already crowded.
We remember that the Crown Prince couple recently visited the camp and that the Norwegian Refugee Council, with state aid, has invested considerable resources in, among other things. house building in the Hitsats camp. These are wasted Norwegian funds.
3) In a time of great coronary danger, a move to an already crowded camp will expose 18,000 Eritrean refugees to a high risk of being infected by the COVID-19 virus with the most serious consequences.
4) The Eritrean Committee will also remind the government that the reason why Ethiopia and Norway continue to have Eritrean refugees is that the human rights situation in Eritrea is not improved despite the promises of 18 months. military service and peace with Ethiopia.
The Eritreans have been trying for 20 years to have a dignified life – something that the totalitarian dictatorship still will not give them. The Eritreans therefore escape from a culture of fear without hope for the future. The push factors are the Sawa school, modern slavery in the national service indefinitely, imprisonment without judgment etc. So it is NOT the so-called pull factor – stay in the US / Europe, as the cause of the escape as the regime still maintains – unfortunately still with some Norwegian politicians.
We ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Aid to verify these claims and take the necessary measures.
More information about the case is attached below in a letter from Eritrea Focus. Source: Eritrean Hub.com
A copy is sent to the Nobel Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Norwegian Church Aid and the Norwegian press.
Finn Våge ,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Oslo, Norway
Mandag 30. mars 2020 12:28
To Finn Våge,
Subject: Peace Prize Winners attack the rights of refugees and expose them to corona danger.
Thank you for a letter to our two ministers received on March 30 asking you to confirm measures by Ethiopian authorities towards Eritrean refugees.
Ethiopia is an important partner country for Norway, and we have good dialogue with the Ethiopian authorities in the refugee and migration area as well. The Norwegian embassy in Addis Ababa recently visited Shire, near the border with Eritrea, and held meetings with representatives of the UN and the Refugee Council. In addition, the embassy maintains on-going contact with relevant Ethiopian authorities.
The long-term goal of Ethiopia’s refugee policy is for refugees to be integrated into communities rather than residing in camps. The closure of Hitsat’s refugee camp is in line with this policy. It is crucial that refugees are guaranteed access to basic services, including health services. In today’s situation, where the corona virus is spreading in Ethiopia, the authorities have chosen to postpone the closure of Hitsat for the time being. In our dialogue with the authorities, we have emphasized that the closure of the camp must not lead to increased vulnerability for the refugees residing there. The letter addresses the refugee status of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.
Earlier, Ethiopia has granted “prima facie” refugee status to all asylum seekers who have arrived from Eritrea. The authorities have now decided that an individual assessment of each case should instead be made. This does not mean that Eritreans will not be granted refugee status in Ethiopia, but it does require Ethiopian authorities to establish good procedures for asylum cases, including complaints.
Although peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is an important step forward, improving the situation for Eritreans will depend on Eritrea’s political and economic development. Norway continues to promote this message in various forums that meet with like Eritrean authorities, diaspora, civil society, multilateral organizations and through the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Senior Adviser / Section for Horn of Africa and West Africa / Ministry of Foreign Affairs Oslo, Norway
Source: Swiss Peace
Tigray route to Hitsats Camp (2020). Picture: Andrea Grossenbacher
Since the coming to power of Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister in April 2018, the country has undergone significant political and economic changes. The promises of a unified and democratic Ethiopia have created high hopes for more peaceful times. At the same time, uncertainty arises as people ask themselves how peace might look like, at what cost it will come and for whom.
The Peace Deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia
One of the achievements of PM Abiy Ahmed’s on-going political reform was to put an end to two decades of ‘frozen war’ between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The signing of the peace agreement in July 2018 won PM Abiy Ahmed international and national recognition and the “2019 Peace Nobel Prize”. In September 2018, following the peace deal, the borders between Ethiopia and Eritrea were opened. Media outlets all around the world documented the joyous moment as families reunified after decades of separation. For many, the images of this historic moment highlighted the personal costs of conflict and the immediate possibilities of peace.
The peace deal with Eritrea had, and continues to have, an impact on the lives of Eritreans and Ethiopians living in the border area in northern Ethiopia. However, the immediate possibilities of peace seem to have faded as the deal has failed to translate into tangible and sustainable improvements for the people. On the contrary, for some, it has created more insecurity and new vulnerabilities. Despite Ethiopia’s history of hosting and maintaining good relationships with Eritrean refugees, a closer look at the current situation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia suggests a gradual deterioration of their protection and safety following the peace agreement. In order to understand the implications of this situation for overall peace, we must look more closely into how the peace agreement directly or indirectly affects Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.
Refugee Policy in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has a long history of hosting refugees. According to UNHCR, Ethiopia is currently sheltering 748,448 registered refugees and asylum seekers (as of 29 February 2020). The regions Tigray and Afar host 139,281 registered Eritrean refugees (as of 31 December 2019). The country acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and has ratified the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Moreover, Ethiopia has maintained an open door policy for people seeking asylum in the country, allowing humanitarian access and protection to refugees. In recent years, the country has seen its refugee policy move from basic service provision to a more progressive and rights-based model. The development towards more progressive refugee policies ended in the adoption of a landmark framework on refugees in 2017: the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (This paves the way for the implementation of the nine pledges Ethiopia made at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September 2016 in New York and provides a solid political basis and direction for enhanced protection and provision of rights. Ethiopia has also been a key driver of the regional CRRF process. In January 2019, the national refugee proclamation was revised which is expected to enable refugees to become more independent, better protected and have greater access to local solutions, making it one of the most progressive in Africa.
Counter to this trend, policies that were in place to protect Eritrean refugees are currently undergoing changes, most likely because of the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. There have been shifts in practice to no longer recognize Eritreans as prima facie refugees. Consequently, Eritreans have to undergo individual refugee status determination. Further, there seems to be a faster process in place for Eritrean refugees to make use of the ‘Out of Camp Policy’, which allows Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to live outside of camps, if finally, this month several Ethiopian newspapers announced the shutdown of the Hitsats camp, one of the four Eritrean refugee camps in northern Ethiopia, leaving about 18’000 Eritrean refugees with an uncertain future. These recent developments have created insecurity and challenges for refugee protection. Yet, given the peace declaration between Eritrea and Ethiopia it does not come as a surprise that some measures, such as the refugee status determination, are being introduced. However, a cause for concern is that measures might be put in place to actively reduce the attractiveness of the Tigray/Afar region for Eritrean refugees, impacting on their ability to get protection.
Peace & Displacement
The peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia had a direct impact on movement as it resulted in the border opening in 2018, which lasted about two months. During this time, many people benefitted from the freedom of movement across the border, for personal and business purposes. However, not everyone was happy with this situation.
First, the uncontrolled movement across borders increased insecurity among Eritrean refugees in the camps in northern Ethiopia, as the end of the conflict with Ethiopia does not guarantee political change in Eritrea. Therefore, people in the camps who fled because of the Eritrean government feared that an opening of the border would allow Eritrean officials to enter the camps and that they would be forced to return to Eritrea. This insecurity has persisted until now and could have a negative impact on the relationships between and among refugees, national and international refugee protection agencies and the national government of Ethiopia, as it increases mistrust, a sense of helplessness and fear
Second, the opening of the border actually led to a subsequent complete closure of the border from the Eritrean side. Legal border crossing is no longer possible. In addition, today there are fewer entry points for Eritrean refugees to register themselves in Ethiopia than before. This, together with the change in prima facie refugee status recognition, has made it more difficult for Eritreans to seek refuge in Ethiopia.
Finally, the peace agreement has led to a change in approach towards Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, which is counter to the overall trend towards more progressive refugee policies in the country. This has created a lot of frustration among refugees, particularly young Eritreans who are well informed and have high expectations regarding the pledges that Ethiopia made to allocate more rights to refugees. Thus, unmet expectations of refugees regarding implementation of the pledges combined with more restrictive policies for Eritrean refugees that are perceived to be aimed at preventing Eritreans from entering Ethiopia and/or from staying in the border area could potentially increase frustration, mistrust and drive tensions between refugees, refugee agencies and the national government. Moreover, Tigrayans in northern Ethiopia have historically welcomed Eritrean refugees warmly, mainly due to the fact that they share the same ethnicity, culture and language. In many cases, host and refugee communities have developed peaceful and mutually benefitting relationships. Therefore – and keeping in mind the already tense relationship between the region’s main political party, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and both the Eritrean and Ethiopian government – it is worth thinking about the potential impact tensions between Eritrean refugees and the Ethiopian government would have on the relationship between the Tigrayans and the national government.
The negative consequences of the peace deal for some Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia, and the potential impact they could have in terms of exacerbating pre-existing tensions or creating new conflict dynamics, shows the importance and relevance of a systematic integration of migration and displacement issues in peace processes and policies. This is a strong argument for an increased engagement on the peace and migration nexus as a means to prevent conflicts and sustain peace.
13 April 2020
As the coronavirus spreads to all corners of the African continent, advocacy groups are calling for the release of a particularly vulnerable group: jailed journalists.
In an open letter to 10 African heads of state, the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, and 80 other press freedom and human rights groups called for the media professionals to be freed.
“They are in jails that are overcrowded, where there are underlying health conditions where malaria and TB is a problem,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “So really, their lives are at risk here and many of them actually haven’t even been convicted and have been sitting in detention for years without trial.”
In a survey conducted at the end of 2019, CPJ found that at least 73 journalists were in prisons in Africa including 26 in Egypt, 16 in Eritrea and seven in Cameroon. Some of the Eritrean journalists have been imprisoned since 2001.
“When it comes to journalists who are being held there, not because they have committed a crime but are being held because of their journalism, it is necessary to ensure that these journalists are not stuck with what we call a death sentence,” Quintal said. “Their freedom is really a matter of life and death.”
One person who knows these difficulties is Mimi Mefo Takambou, a print and broadcast journalist from Cameroon. In 2018, she was arrested and charged with reporting false information and undermining state security for a story about an American missionary who was shot and killed in the West African country.
She was imprisoned for four days, and saw firsthand the squalid conditions in which journalists are held in the country and the lack of basic rights.
“The sanitation condition is not a very good one; like I said, the situation of overcrowding in prison. Access to the lawyer sometimes is problematic. We’ve had colleagues who are behind bars, and they’ll have to spend several months even before having access to lawyers,” she told VOA.
Takambou says she believes it is wrong for journalists to be held like this, not only on moral grounds, but also because they play a vital role in covering the coronavirus crisis.
“They have a huge role to play at this point in time in informing the population and giving them what they need as far as steps toward curbing the spread of coronavirus is concerned. But if most of these journalists are behind bars, who is going to tell the story?” she asked.
Takambou says she hopes her country and others that continue to imprison journalists will see information and those who report it as part of the solution to the coronavirus, not part of the problem.
“Release them so that they can be able to do their job,” she said. “The place of the journalist is not in jail; the place of the journalist is in the field, telling the story, keeping people informed. And, at this point in time now, they are needed more than ever before.”
- Global Fund
- 11 Apr 2020
- Originally published
- 10 Apr 2020
- View original
- Download report (PDF | 220.73 KB)
1. Situation Overview
Global cases: 1,439,516 confirmed. Global deaths: 85,711 confirmed. Countries, areas or territories with cases: 212 (as of 10 April, WHO). WHO published a guidance document on the rational use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in healthcare and home care settings and during the handling of cargo. WHO has listed the first two diagnostic tests for emergency use during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Health Cluster, led by WHO, has been supporting 29 countries to implement the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19.The Global Fund is coordinating with the WHO, which is leading the global response. WHO Situation Reports have detailed updates.
2. Global Fund COVID-19 Response
On 9 April, the Global Fund Board approved a new COVID-19 Response Mechanism and operational flexibilities to support countries to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the impact on programs to fight HIV, TB, malaria and systems for health. The COVID-19 Response Mechanism authorizes funding of US$500 million and comes in addition to up to US$500 million in grant flexibilities that were previously announced by the Global Fund on 4 March. This effectively brings total Global Fund support available to up to US$1 billion. Latest updates:
Board Decision 9 April: Additional Support for Country Responses to COVID-19. Download the full Board decision here.
Board Decision 9 April: Operational Flexibilities to Ensure Continued Operations during COVID-19. Download the full Board decision here.
Funding has been approved for 54 countries and two regional grants (99 individual decisions) for a total of nearly US$70 million. The 54 countries include (new countries are in bold): Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, El Salvador, Eritrea, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The two regional grants are: ALCO HIV/AIDS prevention project targeting key and vulnerable population along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor; and Middle East Response – Ensuring continuity of treatment and essential services for people affected by HIV, TB and malaria in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
Most countries have requested less than the 5% permitted. All requests follow WHO guidance on preparedness and early response. Almost all funds approved to date have come from savings from existing grants.
The number of requests, and the dollar amount of each request, have increased greatly since March. The amount approved in the first nine days in April is almost equal to the total approvals from all of March. Requests are now coming in from all regions.
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