Destitution and fear for refugees from Ethiopia

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).