Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2014, 10:42 GMT

Ethiopia: Information on kebelle (kebele) control of the population in Ethiopia; and freedom to travel for Ethiopians of Eritrean origin or heritage

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 10 January 2001
Citation / Document Symbol ETH01003.ZAR
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ethiopia: Information on kebelle (kebele) control of the population in Ethiopia; and freedom to travel for Ethiopians of Eritrean origin or heritage, 10 January 2001, ETH01003.ZAR, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3dece8307.html [accessed 22 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Query:

Would it be possible for an Ethiopian of Eritrean descent to go unnoticed in Addis Ababa for two years and to travel in and out of Ethiopia to neighboring countries on a frequent basis?

Is it normal for an Ethiopian of Eritrean descent to be arrested and released with a warning numerous times and then procure an exit visa and renew their passport without difficulty because they were never formally arrested by kebelle (kebele) officials?

Response:

Overview: In the two years between the outbreak of fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea in May 1998 and the cessation of hostilities in mid-June 2000, some 60,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin were expelled from Ethiopia. (See, Amnesty International, "Ethiopia and Eritrea: Human Rights Issues in a Year of Armed Conflict," 21 May 1999; Last, BBC News, "Ethiopia Resumes Mass Deportations," 6 July 1999; BBC News, "Storm over Eritreans' Repatriation," 29 October 1999) The number of people of Eritrean origin or heritage living in Ethiopia prior to the armed conflict was estimated to be between 200,000 and 500,000-so a rough estimate of between 12 and 30 percent of people of Eritrean origin expelled during this two-year period gives some idea of the scale of the expulsions and the threat felt by these residents. Thousands of others avoided expulsion by moving 'voluntarily' to Eritrea while others fled to neighboring states (Pearce, BBC News, "Plight of the Stranded Eritreans," 4 November 1999).

The criteria for the expulsions-which took place without any due process of law-were extremely broad: any indication that an individual had ties of birth or heritage to Eritrea, had voted in the 1993 referendum on Eritrean independence or had "helped Eritrea in any way" would make that person a target for expulsion (Klein, Mass Expulsion from Ethiopia, 1999, p.11). Men, women and children, young and old, urban and rural residents, from a very wide range of professions and occupations, were expelled with little distinction made as long as the connection with Eritrea could be proved or inferred to the satisfaction of the security forces carrying out the expulsions. (See, Klein, Mass Expulsion from Ethiopia, 1999; Legesse The Uprooted, 22 February 1999; U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999, 25 February 2000)

Although in most cases a person of Eritrean origin living in Ethiopia would not be distinguishable as "Eritrean" since many Eritreans and (particularly Tigrean) Ethiopians share language, culture, and religion, nonetheless, the relatively stable nature of many communities and the role of the kebelles in social control would in many cases make the identification of Eritreans relatively straightforward. A forthcoming INS Resource Information Center Question and Answer Series on the expulsions discusses ways in which people of Eritrean origin could be identified for expulsion:

The kebelles play a significant role in social control in Ethiopia and played an important part in the expulsions and oversight of people of Eritrean origin during the period of the armed conflict with Eritrea. But, as a query response from the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board notes (citing an advisor in the office of the Ethiopian prime minister), there is a good deal of variation in the level of organization of the five to six thousand kebelles in the country. For example, "Issuance of new kebele cards varies greatly from one kebele to another." The response also notes "control of movement is particularly severe in rural areas" (Government of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, 30 September 1996) which supports information provided in other sources that hiding one's Eritrean origin would be more difficult in the rural areas.

In a telephone interview, a counselor at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., gave his opinion that kebelle membership was stronger in the rural areas-where the communities are more tightly knit and where there are more likely to be active benefits from programs linked to the kebelles (certain food-for-work and environmental protection programs were given as examples)-than in the cities. He also stated that membership of a kebelle is not obligatory and there is not a fine for not registering with the kebelle (Counselor, Embassy of Ethiopia, Telephone Interview, 8 January 2001).

Ethiopian government control of people with links to Eritrea was strengthened with the August 1999 requirement for "All Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin over 18 years of age who had taken part in the 1993 referendum on Eritrean independence" and "those who had been granted Eritrean citizenship . . .to register with the Security, Immigration and Refugee Authority (SIRAA) and complete residence application forms." After registration, they received identity cards and residence permits for six months (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999, 25 February 2000, 188 & 194). In February and March 2000, SIRAA ordered Eritreans living in Ethiopia to renew their residence permits for the next six months and warned it would take "necessary legal measures" against Eritreans who failed to do so (UN, IRIN, "Horn of Africa: IRIN News Briefs," Friday 3 March 2000). A person of Eritrean origin who had not voted in the 1993 independence referendum and was not an Eritrean citizen would not be required to register under these regulations.

Difficulties in traveling abroad: People of Eritrean origin living in Ethiopia have been limited in their ability to travel freely in and out of Ethiopia. The State Department reports that Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin have been able to obtain exit visas-which are required before departing the country-but often are not permitted to return to Ethiopia (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999, 25 February 2000, 194).

However, according to a representative of Amnesty International who has followed closely human rights developments in the Horn of Africa, "Ethiopia has been refusing to let Eritreans leave," for Eritrea or elsewhere, and has not "to my knowledge granted exit visas, as this would mean recognizing the Ethiopian citizenship of many of them" (Representative, Amnesty International, E-mail communication, 15 August 2000). The information officer at the Eritrean Embassy in Washington, D.C., also stated that Eritreans had not been allowed to leave Ethiopia voluntarily for third countries. "A lot left illegally--to Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan; some tried to pay bribes to get visas; some people have gone into hiding" (Information Officer, Embassy of Eritrea, Telephone Interview, 12 September 2000). In a telephone interview, an official at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. confirmed that once the conflict began, people of Eritrean origin were not permitted to get Ethiopian passports and, if they were in possession of them, would not be allowed to use them and would have to return them, since "they were Eritreans, not Ethiopians" (Second Secretary, Embassy of Ethiopia, Telephone Interview, 8 January 2001).

A Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board query response (citing an Ethiopian Embassy official in Ottawa) stated "in order to obtain a passport in Ethiopia, a person must normally present an identity card by his or her local kebele, which serves as proof of address, or in the absence of such an identity card, a letter from the local kebele . . . A person must have a valid passport in order to receive an exit permit, which is stamped on the passport" (Government of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, "Ethiopia: Procedures for travelling within and leaving Ethiopia," 16 November 1999).

In a telephone interview, a counselor at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., confirmed that a letter from the kebelle is required to obtain an Ethiopian passport-the letter being to confirm that the individual resides at a particular address in that area rather than to be an approval of the granting of a passport. The Embassy official also stated that while the passport itself has a space for name, occupation, place and date of birth, residence, etc., that in many cases the section for "place and date of birth" would contain only the year-not the month or the place of birth. He indicated his view that a person of Eritrean origin would not have a problem traveling in and out of Ethiopia "unless he was seen as a security threat, or had debts to settle" (Counselor, Embassy of Ethiopia, Telephone Interview, 8 January 2001).

Role of kebelles in arresting, maintaining information on individuals: In a telephone interview, a second official at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. stated that the kebelles are not responsible for making arrests and that the police force is the body that carries out arrests and maintains records of arrests. This official stated that while in the 1970s and 1980s the kebelles had been a "controlling force" in the communities, today their role is "typically administrative." He acknowledged, however, that during the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the kebelles had played an important role in keeping tabs on people of Eritrean origin. He also stated that once the conflict began, people of Eritrean origin were not permitted to get Ethiopian passports and, if they were in possession of them, would not be allowed to use them and would have to return them (Second Secretary, Embassy of Ethiopia, Telephone Interview, 8 January 2001).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee or asylum status.

References

Amnesty International (London), Electronic mail communication from Amnesty International Representative to author, 15 August 2000.

Amnesty International, "Ethiopia and Eritrea: Human Rights Issues in a Year of Armed Conflict," AFR 04/04/99, (London: Amnesty International, 21 May 1999).

British Broadcasting Corporation News (World: Africa), "Storm over Eritreans' Repatriation," (London: 29 October 1999). [Internet] URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_493000/493424.htm

Embassy of Eritrea (Washington, DC), Telephone Interview with Information Officer, (12 September 2000).

Embassy of Ethiopia (Washington, DC), Telephone Interview with Counselor, (8 January 2001).

Embassy of Ethiopia (Washington, DC), Telephone Interview with Second Secretary, (8 January 2001).

Government of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, Documentation, Information and Research Branch, "Ethiopia: Information on whether kebele cards are currently being issued and if old kebele cards are currently in use," ETH24990, (30 September 1996). [Internet] URL: http://www.irb.gc.ca/cgi-bin/foliocgi.exe/refinfo_e/query=eth24990!2Ee/doc/{@1}/hits_only?

Government of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, Research Directorate, "Ethiopia: Procedures for travelling within and leaving Ethiopia: how passports and exit permits are obtained, and whether kebele authorities must be notified," ETH33213.E, (16 November 1999). [Internet] URL: http://www.irb.gc.ca/cgi-bin/foliocgi.exe/refinfo_e/query=eth33213!2Ee/doc/{@1}/hits_only?

Government of Eritrea, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (27 December 1999). [Internet] URL: http://www.visafric.com/news/1999/News_Dec99/fresh_expulsions_on_christmasmin.htm

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Resource Information Center (Washington, DC), Eritrea and Ethiopia: Large-scale Expulsions of Population Groups and other Human Rights Violations in Connection with the Ethiopian-Eritrean Conflict, 1998-2000. Question and Answer Series, (forthcoming).

Klein, Natalie S. Mass Expulsion from Ethiopia: Report on the Deportation of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean Origin from Ethiopia., June-August, 1998. (Connecticut: Yale School of Law, 1999). [Internet] URL: http://www.primenet.com/~ephrem2/newscom2/Klein.html

Last, Alex. "Ethiopia Resumes Mass Deportations," British Broadcasting Corporation News (World: Africa) (London:6 July 1999). [Internet] URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_387000/387561.stm#top

Legesse, Asmarom. The Uprooted: A Scientific Survey of Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia Conducted with Regard to Human Rights Violations (22 February 1999). [Internet] URL: http://www.primenet.com/~ephrem2/legesse/uprooted2.html

Pearce, Justin. "Plight of the Stranded Eritreans," British Broadcasting Corporation News (World: Africa) (London: 4 November 1999). [Internet] URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid%5F504000/504784.htm

United Nations Development Programme (Asmara-Eritrea). "Update on Deportees: 12-19 July 1998," p.7. [Internet] URL: http://www.primenet.com/~ephrem2/newscom2/UNDP.html

United Nations. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Integrated Regional Information Network for Central and Eastern Africa (IRIN), "Horn of Africa: IRIN News Briefs, Friday 3 March (3 March 2000). [Internet] URL: http://wwww.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/3a81e21068ec1871c1256633003c1c6f/8bc4e69395d8ffcb852568980068bf2a

U.S. Department of State. "Ethiopia," Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999 - Volume 1 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 25 February 2000). [Internet] URL: http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/ethiopia.html

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