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UN Investigator Probes Alleged Forced Return of Eritrean Refugees from Ethiopia

An Eritrean refugee woman is registered at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, Jan. 30, 2021.
An Eritrean refugee woman is registered at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, Jan. 30, 2021.

A U.N. human rights expert is calling for an urgent investigation into allegations that Eritrean forces have forcibly repatriated Eritrean refugees who were living in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray province. His report has been submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, started his mandate on November 1. An Ethiopian military offensive began in Tigray November 4 after months of rising tensions between Addis Ababa and forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF. When the conflict erupted, he said more than 96,000 Eritrean refugees were in four camps.

Addressing the Human rights Council on Wednesday, Babiker said he has received information from credible sources about the precarious situation of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the province.

“I am also concerned about allegations of possible implication of the Eritrean troops in cases of serious human rights violations, including acts of abductions, forceful or involuntary return of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers, and their imprisonment in different prisons inside Eritrea. Such allegations need to be investigated promptly and thoroughly by independent mechanisms,” said Babiker.

There was no response from the Ethiopian or Eritrean governments.

Babiker said he is particularly concerned about two refugee camps in Tigray that hosted more than 25,000 Eritreans. These, he said, allegedly were destroyed in attacks by Eritrean and Ethiopian troops, acts which would constitute a serious breach of international humanitarian law.

“On 28 January 2021, in my letter to the government of Ethiopia, I called on the Ethiopian authorities to protect the human rights of the Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the Tigray region, and to ensure respect for their rights under human rights law, international humanitarian law and international refugee law,” he said.

Babiker said he wants Eritrean authorities to give him full access to refugees and asylum seekers allegedly in Eritrean prisons. Babiker also said he has received no response to previous requests from the Eritrean authorities to visit Eritrea to assess the human rights situation on the ground.

Eritrean Ambassador-at-Large Tesfamichael Gerahtu dismissed the special rapporteur’s report as being full of senseless allegations and of presenting a bleak, unjustified picture of his country.

He said his government has succeeded in creating meaningful, sustainable development based on social justice. He added it was time for the Council to end its harassment of Eritrea and terminate its mandate on the human rights situation in the country, which has been going on for eight years.