Lately, crowds of frustrated Eritreans have been crowding the Eritrean embassy hoping it will facilitate their return to Eritrea. A stranded Eritrean said, “…the embassy is treating our debacle as a commercial opportunity and plans to exploit us.”
The Eritreans had travelled to Ethiopia for different reasons. Some went there to meet their relatives who cannot travel to Eritrea because they are dissenters. Others have traveled to Addis Ababa for medication because medical services in Eritrea are poor.
A contact told Gedab News, “I came to Addis Ababa to visit my old mother who lives in in Ethiopia with my relative who cannot travel to Eritrea because he is considered an enemy of the Eritrean ruling party.” The Eritrean government keeps lists of banned names at all entry points to Eritrea.
The stranded people traveled to Ethiopia just prior to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic; they were stranded there after air travel stopped. And since then they have been going through dire financial situations; some of them became homeless.
Recently the embassy announced it will start the process for their return to Asmara and asked those who wish to return home to register at the embassy. Last week over 2000 people turned up in the embassy hoping their ordeal will end. However, the embassy gave them detailed forms to fill up and informed them each traveler must pay $300 dollars to cover the cost of travel ticket in a chartered Ethiopian Airlines flight. In addition, once they arrive in Asmara, they must stay quarantined in a hotel for a week or ten days—and must make advance payment or provide guarantees. Most of the people left the embassy in frustration because they “cannot afford the travel and hotel costs for the expected quarantine period.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the price of a return Asmara-Addis Ababa ticket costed about EB 9,400 (about US$340); some travelers said they were willing to buy a one-way ticket for half the pre-Covid price. However, the embassy told them, the price of air travel has increased because now airplanes carry fewer passengers to abide by the international travel policies and adhere to social distancing guidelines. A stranded Eritrean said, “there was no sympathy or financing proposal by the embassy, they told us their decision in a manner that looked like a normal commercial transaction.”
Several Eritrean embassies in many countries are treating the repatriation of stranded citizens similarly.