“Eritrea can be emptied of people of working age”

The refugee flows from Eritrea have tripled since the border opened a few weeks ago. It states the UN Refugee Body UNHCR for SVT News. The peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea has led to an onset of humanitarian disaster.
The closed country called “Africa’s North Korea” may be emptied of people of working age.

In the village of Rama, just a few kilometers from the border with Eritrea is chaos. In the streets, in the square, there are Etruscan refugees everywhere, many with children. Here they have lived for over a week beneath the sky, without necessities since they crossed the border.

People fly without passports or identity documents, away from a life of oppression and material poverty, where young people from the age of 14 are forced for military service by many years of military service, and the country’s president, the dictator Isaias Afewerki, manages ironically.

A woman and her child who crossed the border to Ethiopia.
“I never return to Eritrea,” said Natsnet Kifle, which SVT meets when she crosses the border with Ethiopia. Photo: SVT / Erika Bjerström

“I never return,” said Natsnet Kifle quietly as she braids her three-year-old daughter.

Live in total isolation

She tells her how she crossed the border on foot. People have moved their heads over their heads and only brought as much as they can carry.

Refugees tell SVT News how they lived in total isolation in the dictatorship, without the possibility of even making telephone calls to relatives in other countries.

“Throughout our lives, we have heard that we are in Eritrea, which has the best material and that we live in Ethiopia. Now that we get here we see that it’s a lie, it’s the other way around, says a young man.

“The refugee wave has tripled”

Many dare not tell about the oppression, for fear of reprisals if they would be backed up.

The towns in Rama tell how they try to help refugees but that the situation begins to become superpowerous.

– Several of us have received seventy eight Eritreans in our homes. But we can not handle more. Where is the United Nations? wondering Hagos Ye-ebiyo and tells the UN to come daily and pick up a few refugees to the Endabuaguna refugee camp outside Shire where asylum seekers are registered. The rest remains in Rama and all other border villages.

Nobody knows today how many people have crossed the border, the refugee wave has surprised everyone. So far, 1700 refugees have been registered, Kisut Gebreegziabher states, information officer at UNHCR’s office in Addis Ababa.

But that figure may already be out of date. For each day, the number increases across the border, counting in thousands of people.

– This is an emergency. Our assessment is that the refugee wave has tripled since the opening of the border.

Boundary traffic has exploded

There have been three refugee receptions in the Tigra Province, previously, and UNHCR is now trying to increase the capacity of tents and beds.

Boundary traffic has exploded. The 25-kilometer-wide, demilitarized zone that the United Nations watched over in late 2000 is emptied of military forces. SVT News passes torn bombed villages, a memory of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea which killed more than 100,000 people.

An intensive traffic is now taking place with rusty 70-year-old Eritrea trucks of the Fiat brand, a rest of Italian colonial times.

En bro har gått sönder på grund av trycket av en fullastad lastbil.
The border trade has exploded and a large amount of goods are brought into Eritrea for sale on the black market. Here, a bridge, which has not been used in 20 years, has given way to the pressure of the truck. Photo: SVT / Erika Bjerström

The goods are sold in the black market

They are loaded to the rims with goods from Ethiopia: refrigerators, mattresses, televisions, milk bags, electronics and clothes. The goods are imported into Eritrea for sale on the black market. On the other side, minibus after minibus is full of eritreans who now want to get to Ethiopia.

But the hosted bridge, which has not been used for 20 years, has suffered from pressure and just collapsed when SVT News arrives.

The wrecks have become tiled and a truck has fallen down and stuck in the steel foundation. Nobody can come by. On the eritrean side suddenly traffic begins to take the road along the banks and runs straight across the river into Ethiopia. Several trucks run immediately in the water, other lighter cars get over.

Unclear future for the eritreans

The question is what future the Eritrean refugees are meeting. Since the war is over and the countries have left peace, it is unclear whether the newly arrived Eritrean refugees can get refugee status. At the same time there are no signs of democratization in Eritrea.

Those we meet just want one thing – away from Eritrea. In a few weeks, the border will close again and afterwards, both visas and passports will be required to travel freely. No eritreans we meet think they will be able to get such travel documents from the regime.

“The country will now be emptied into working people and it will only be children and old,” says a refugee who wants to be anonymous.

Fotografen Kumerra Gemechu med SVT:s utsända Erika Bjerström vid gränsen mellan Eritrea och Etiopien.
The photographer Kumerra Gemechu with SVT’s emigrated Erika Bjerström at the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Photo: SVT

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