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Djibouti: UNHCR fails Eritrean refugees

Over 260 Eritrean refugees have been detained in Neged camp for over a year. Djiboutian authorities claim Neged is a Djiboutian police academy.

Most of the refugees are ex-soldiers of the Eritrean army who escaped from forceful and indefinite conscription. They are still living in appalling conditions in Neged camp.

Djiboutian authorities are determined to keep the refugees under detention. An official said, “Releasing trained soldiers into the streets is a security concern and we will not release them until the UNHCR or a third-country accepts them.”

According to the official, twenty five refugees have chosen to return to Eritrea, and Djibouti has informed the Red Cross accordingly. So far, the Red Cross has not received a reply from Eritrean officials to receive the would-be returnees. The Djiboutian official stated, “The Eritrean government is not interested in the refugees and considers them traitors.”

Around 141 of the refugees are willing to be transferred to Ethiopia while a few others would like to wait in Djibouti hoping to get a chance to settle in Western countries.

The USA and Canada have been taking refugees for settlement although veteran combatants, older refugees, and those with little or no education don’t seem to stand a good chance for resettlement; a refugee said, “There is clearly an age discrimination.”

The refugees are living in poor conditions with little medical care, and they sleep in the open yard to avoid the sweltering heat inside the rooms. Temperatures in Djibouti rise to more than 100 degree Fahrenheit in the open.

The Djiboutians have indicated their inability to provide better care than the one they are currently providing to the refugees. Indicating that Djibouti is a poor country, they claim the cost of keeping the refugees at $15 per day per person is a heavy burden on their meager resources.

Referring to the Eritrean Diaspora, the Djiboutian official said, “If you think we are not providing enough for your refugees, maybe you can take care of them by providing provisions and also sending volunteer doctors to take care of them.”

Several Eritreans have tried to help resolve the Eritrean refugee situation in Djibouti to no avail. Mr. Haile Menkerios, Under-Secretary-General of the UN met with both the Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn of Ethiopia and President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and talked about the Eritrean refugees. Mr. Yousuf Berhanu, the Executive President of Eritrean national Council for Democratic Change, has written to the Djiboutian authorities appealing on behalf of the refugees, and to the Ethiopian government to accept the refugees.

In Geneva, Elsa Chyrum, of Human Rights Concern Eritrea, carried out a hunger strike outside the Djibouti Mission to the United Nations in a campaign to release and resettle the Eritrean refugees held in detention in Djibouti.

So far, all efforts to secure the freedom of the refugees have failed.

The Djiboutian official didn’t appreciate the Eritrean Diaspora’s campaign implicating Djibouti in the refugee crisis. He stated, “you should demonstrated in front of Eritrean embassies who created the refugees, not Djibouti…you should recognize that Djibouti finds itself in an unfortunate situation of caring for them.”

In a veiled threat, the official said, “We don’t want to complicate their situation by pushing them back to Eritrea across the border.”

Observers believe that the Ethiopian government will accept the refugees who have indicated their willingness to be transferred to the Eritrean refugee camps in North Ethiopia where there are several camps that house tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees who escaped from Eritrea.

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  • Amanuel

    Do you have data (evidence) to support your claim? or just writing to annoy Haile. We are talking about 267 people and insulting with out shred of evidence tells a lot about you than them.

    • Selam

      Do you have evidence to claim otherwise or are you writing to annoy me?

  • sara

    kokob salam
    i also have info, most of them want to return to eritrea, if they will be given amnesty. how about that!

  • Kokhob Selam

    till this very moment the news is “267 Eritrean detainees left Negad Detention Centre, and they are heading to Ali Addeh refugee camp.”

  • Kokhob Selam

    Awate Team I am personally in contact with some of them and they said there is no single person who chose to go to Eritrea so far. how did you mention so? just now some one send me a massage saying “Haqi aykonen ezi zereba manm nab eritrea zmeretse yelen !” something wrong on this.

    • Dawit

      Kokhob Selam,

      The report says , :

      “Observers believe that the Ethiopian government will accept the refugees who have indicated their willingness to be transferred to the Eritrean refugee camps in North Ethiopia where there are several camps that house tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees who escaped from Eritrea.”

      Why aren’t they willing to go to Ethiopia ? What’s their excuse?

      • haile

        Selam Dawit and AT,

        Dawit: the main reason appears to be that some of them believe that they have been waiting and suffered for six years now. If they go to Ethiopia that might reset their resettlement wait time start position because they have to make fresh registration with UNHCR in Ethiopia.

        AT: I also understand that Adiam (EYSNS Ethiopia) has been working on the matter along side the others you listed. I say this because I feel this thing is becoming a hot potato by igniting side conflict among justice seekers. Even PFDJ seemed to have latched on that and Tesfanews quoted Elsa Chyrum as a featured commentator (strange). So one thing we need to think ahead is how to handle this issues in a more inclusive way that recognizes all contributors. Mind you, however, it is most probable that I am less informed on the matter than you guys are. So, advance apology if I am just bluberring hateftef 🙂


        • Dawit


          Your explanation makes perfect sense. The guys want to go to the west. Such demand can be construed as them being Economic as opposed to political migrants.

          • haile


            Not so. If they were economic migrants then they would have waited for a profitable or advantageous occasion to leave Eritrea. They left Eritrea without any second thoughts as to where or how they would end up. That makes them political refugees. Once they are out of Eritrea, it is only human and natural to try to give themselves a better opportunity from here on. Their decision to move from Dejibuti and Ethiopia my have security and economic calculation in it. But that has nothing to do with their orginal uprooting from their country. These are defenseless people, let’s not flex any muscle shall we? 🙂

          • Kokhob Selam
          • Muhammed

            They want to eat hamburgers and wear designer clothes. Economic migrants are what they are. Unfortunately they’ll be stuck in refugee camps until desperation settles in and then they’ll flee across the Mediterranean.

          • dawit

            ‘WODESH KETEDEFASH BIREGTUSH AYKFASH’. These are clearly defectors as far as Eritrean government is concerned and not ‘Refugees’ and if GOE decided not accept them it is understandable. They may be heroes for the opposition camp but they are traitors for GOE. 267 individuals educated and trained to defend their country are stranded in prisons of foreign lands and the next best alternative is a refugee camp in Ethiopia. My advice to these poor misguided fellows to repent their sins and ask mercy to GOE instead of wasting their future in refugee camps or prisons. I wish them good luck.

          • Hope

            Theoretically,yes,you are right .But,Dawit,just put yourself in their spot—-What would you do?
            If you have NO chance to survive let alone to have choices,not sure what I would have done.Some of us tried to live between life and death with a very high and respected professional degrees in the bankers of the enemy,not to mention the Elite Eritreans who even died for us leaving the BEST Western Life Style behind but some of us were lucky enough to have survived,albeit, this was during the Liberation Struggle when the morale and determination were quite different.
            Strictly speaking,I agree with your brutal and merciless judgement as they left behind their bros and sis under the worst living conditions in the Dankalia desert with daily temps of 120 degres F(44 Degree C.).
            I feel bad for them and wish them the BEST of luck and hope they get resettled in the destinations of their wish/dream–Insha Allah/God willing.
            As I said before though, we should blame ourselves for NOTacting early on their behalf.

          • dawit

            What would I do if I were in their spot? I would have done exactly what I wrote as advice to them in my comment. Pack and go home. I would rather live in Eritrea with all its inconveniences of freedom and deprivation of materials than to be confined in prison or stay in remote refugee camps in a foreign country. I rather breath fresh air in Eritrea. Mind you the great majority of Eritreans live in Eritrea, despite the harsh political and economic hardships. ‘MIS HIZBKA ZMETSE MAAT KEM GAAT’. For sure their will be an end to all problems and crises just like those before. There was a time of Zemen Tripoly, Zemen Talian, Zemen Haile Selassie and Zemen Dergi. Some of them much worst than the present situation in Eritrea, but they all ended. I like our people wisdom ‘Zhareme maina, zbereke tshayna, znegese nigusna’ I think that must be the survival method Eritrean people followed to survive the wave of different storms that visited them over centuries. Personally I do not regard PFDJ or PIA as evils, but rather Eritrean sons and daughters with little experience in governing their country and may have committed errors in some of their decisions to keep the country from foreign aggression and dominance to our newly independent nation brought by countless sacrifices of several generations. Our grand fathers were forced to fight in wars to expand and defend Italian empire in Libya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The present Eritrean government is asking or forcing its citizens to defend the independence and territory.

          • yemane

            dawit, “fresh air in Eritrea”? You must be talking about the metal shipping containers where hundreds are locked up.

          • Selam

            Let us not kid ourselves. They are economic migrants and quite frankly not that bright. They’ll most likely spend their life in refugee camps.

      • Kokhob Selam

        it is not really perfect time to talk about it today. in hours developments will be seen and every single word we say here may affect. let the once who handle it complete their job.