Persecuted in Ethiopia: Hunted in Hargeisa

Oromia Support Group Report 47 February 2012.

Dr Trevor Trueman, Chair of the Oromia Support Group, was funded by OSG and ORA UK to conduct research among refugees in Djibouti and Somaliland in November and December 2011. He is the author of this report, which details experiences of refugees in Hargeisa, Somaliland, and of another report, shortly to be published, which recounts the experiences of refugees in Djibouti.

The Oromia Support Group is a non-political organisation which attempts to raise awareness of human rights violations in Ethiopia. OSG has now reported 4,407 extra-judicial killings and 992 disappearances of civilians in Ethiopia. Hundreds of thousands have been placed in illegal detention, where torture and rape are commonplaces.

Refugees from Ethiopia and officials of NGOs and governments were interviewed in Somaliland and Djibouti in November and December 2011. Formal interviews with 43 refugees, including 17 in Hargeisa, confirmed other reports that a high proportion of refugees from Ethiopia give histories of torture. Twenty one of the 43 interviewees (49%), including 13 of the 17 interviewed in Hargeisa (76%), had been tortured. Many instances of killing and rape by Ethiopian government forces were reported.

Somaliland officials and journalists claim that refugees from Ethiopia are at best economic migrants; at worst criminals and terrorists. Simplistic portrayal of immigrants as economic migrants ignores life-threatening destitution which is a direct result of Ethiopian government policies and the deliberate targeting of government critics for economic sanctions.

Because of the cooperation between Somaliland and Ethiopia, perceived critics and opponents of the Ethiopian regime are not given safe haven as refugees in Somaliland. Refoulement of refugees and asylum-seekers continues and UNHCR has proved ineffective in preventing this. Seven individuals were taken back to Ethiopia by combined units of Ethiopian and Somaliland forces between 25 October 2011 and 3 January 2012.

Refugee status determination and registration of asylum-seekers has been stalled since 2008. UNHCR recognises 1660 refugees and several thousand asylum-seekers. Recognised refugees were given monthly allowances of $40-80 per family by UNHCR and were given access to supplementary feeding, primary education and limited medical help at the Social Welfare Centre, provided by Save the Children under contract to UNHCR.

Under pressure from the Somaliland government, UNHCR withdrew the majority of allowances at the beginning of 2011, causing many families to get behind with their rent. In September, the government banned the employment of ‘illegal immigrants’. Recognised refugees and asylum-seekers were dismissed from their low paid, part-time jobs which had enabled them to subsist. Unable to pay rent, they were evicted by their landlords, who in many instances confiscated their belongings in lieu of rent.

At the beginning of November, destitute refugees began camping at the Social Welfare Centre and asylum-seekers set up camp on an adjacent vacant lot. Over 400 are now camped inside and outside the centre. Save the Children stopped the supplementary feeding, primary school and health care provision and later terminated its contract. The owner of the building is trying to remove the encamped refugees and using violence to do so.
Overcrowded, insanitary conditions, food shortage and lack of medical care have been responsible for deaths at the centre. Eight infants died in a 15 day period in January 2012.

Refugees are not being protected in Somaliland. They face an uncertain future. Their choices are limited to returning to face persecution, torture and death in Ethiopia; remaining as destitute, unwanted people in Somaliland, prone to death from hunger and disease and at risk of refoulement back to Ethiopia, or; walking to apply for asylum elsewhere, leaving those, who are too weak to walk, to die at the roadside.

 

Ragged clothes used as a shelter

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Ethiopia exports more than coffee:
Oromo refugees, fear and destitution in Kenya.
Oromia Support Group
In an intensive two week investigation into health and security needs of Oromo refugees in Kenya, 58 were interviewed in Kakuma and Dadaab camps and in two estates in Nairobi.

Refugees reported very high levels of torture and rape in Ethiopia. Out of 27 men who were interviewed, 25 had been detained and 20 (80%) of former detainees had been tortured. Out of 31 women interviewed, 16 had been detained. Nine (56%) of these had been raped in detention. One other was raped by a soldier in her home.

The refugees complained of excessive delays in status determination by UNHCR, often due to repeatedly postponed appointments, and voiced their frustration in waiting long periods for resettlement opportunities. They believed that other groups were more successful in being resettled, sometimes using false Oromo identities. Although instances of this undoubtedly occur, it was not possible to confirm whether or not there is a significant difference in the rates of resettlement between groups. UNHCR has an impossible workload and in many ways copes admirably under difficult circumstances. Means of distinguishing genuine Oromo claimants were explored.

The main problems expressed were related to security and mental health. Refugees in Kakuma, especially unaccompanied women, lived in fear of attack by thieves and rapists. In the Dadaab camps, racist abuse and violence from Somalis severely restricted economic and social life. Misery and mental ill-health were worse in the camps than in Nairobi.

Insecurity from police is possibly declining in Eastleigh estate, Nairobi, but theft and rape remain serious problems, again most severely affecting unaccompanied women. Security threats from agents of the Ethiopia government are much more severe in Nairobi than in the camps. Some reported threats are due to fear and paranoia. Others are invented in order to promote chances of resettlement. However, significant and serious security threats from those acting on behalf of the Ethiopian government are common and affect large numbers of refugees. Detailed accounts of the refoulement of five mandated refugees and an account of three awaiting refugee status determination were recorded..

Djibouti: destitution and fear for refugees from Ethiopia
Oromia Support Group Report 48 May 2012
Street scene, Djibouti city
Desert scene near Ali Addeh
Distant view of, from left to right, garrison, town and refugee camp at Ali AddehThe Oromia Support Group is a non-political organisation which attempts to raise awareness of human rights violations in Ethiopia. OSG has now reported 4407 extra-judicial killings and 992 disappearances of civilians in Ethiopia. Hundreds of thousands have been placed in illegal detention, where torture and rape are commonplace.

Refugees from Ethiopia and officials of NGOs and governments were interviewed in Somaliland and Djibouti in November and December 2011. Formal interviews with 43 refugees, including 26 in Djibouti, confirmed other reports that a high proportion of refugees from Ethiopia have been tortured.

Twenty one of the 43 interviewees (49%), including eight of the 26 interviewed in Djibouti, had been tortured. Every male former detainee (17) and four out of six female former detainees had been tortured – 91% of 23 former detainees.

At least four of the six female former detainees were serially and multiply raped. Three more, two when aged 11-14, were raped by Ethiopian security forces in or near their homes.

Interviewees reported 34 killings of close relatives and friends by Ethiopian security forces and the deaths of 94 in horrific circumstances in detention. One gave an eye-witness account of the Weter massacre, where he reported 1000 were shot dead in 1992.

There are several hundred registered asylum-seekers in Djibouti city and several thousand undocumented immigrants from Ethiopia. Registration, which was resumed for new applicants in 2010, affords a degree of protection from police roundups and the threat of deportation to Ethiopia. Refoulement of large numbers of registered asylum-seekers and UNHCR mandate refugees is now less common, due to better training of the Djibouti police by UNHCR.

However, refoulement of at least 25 Oromo and Ogadeni asylum-seekers and refugees occurred between November 2010 and January 2011. Eye-witness accounts corroborate claims that these men and women were abducted by snatch squads consisting of Djibouti and Ethiopian security forces.

UNHCR acknowledges that some were taken but believes reports by Djibouti police that only members of armed opposition groups were arrested and deported. Evidence provided by eye-witnesses and acquaintances of those refouled is not consistent with this belief. UNHCR does not appreciate the risk of abduction and refoulement for refugees who have no association with Ethiopian opposition groups, nor the associated fear that is part of their daily lives.

Asylum-seekers in Djibouti city lead a marginal existence, due to high unemployment and exploitation of cheap casual labour. Xenophobic and sexual violence is commonly reported in the city and in the area of Ali Addeh refugee camp, where most of the few hundred Ethiopian mandated refugees live. Two women reported three incidents of rape, including two of gang-rape in Djibouti city.

The sluggish refugee status determination process badly needs overhauling in Djibouti. Very few asylum-seekers achieve refugee status and therefore the assistance available in Ali Addeh camp or the slim chance of being considered for resettlement in a third country.

The factors that lead people to leave their homes, communities and lands in search of safety are complex. Repression, social violence, armed conflict, poverty and forced displacement co-exist and reinforce each other. The immediate cause of flight is almost always the danger of human rights abuse. . . .
The growing number of refugees is neither a temporary problem nor the random product of chance events. It is the predictable consequence of human rights crises, the result of decisions made by individuals who wield power over people’s lives. If governments did their job – if they protected their citizens instead of persecuting them – then those in exile could return home safely, and no more men, women and children would have to gamble on an uncertain future in a foreign land.

Amnesty International. Refuge! Africa. In search of safety: The forcibly displaced and human rights in Africa. Index AFR 01/05/97. London. June 1997 (pp.1 and 6).

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