Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2017, 09:48 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Ethiopia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Ethiopia, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
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.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

In 2006, there were no reports of refoulement from Ethiopia, nor were refugees or asylum seekers in physical danger.

Ethiopia was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol – with reservations treating the Convention's rights to exemption from exceptional measures, to work, and to primary education as recommendations – and the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The 1995 Constitution made international agreements "an integral part of the law of the land" and gave the executive and legislative branches specific authority to provide asylum. The 2004 Refugee Proclamation established a procedure for applying for asylum and incorporated the refugee definitions from both conventions, including Africans fleeing war and generalized violence. It prohibited the Government from refusing entry to refugees or asylum seekers and returning them to any country where they would be at risk of persecution. It also granted refugees some rights of both Conventions but made exceptions to those of movement and work.

According to the Proclamation, persons could apply whether in the country legally or not but had to submit their applications to the Security, Immigration and Refugee Affairs Authority of Ethiopia (SIRAA) or a police station within 15 days of arrival. Applicants had the right to interpreters at all stages of the hearing and to decisions in writing, including the reasons for them. Applicants SIRAA rejected could appeal within 30 days to the Appeal Hearing Council made up of representatives of SIRAA and the ministries of justice, foreign affairs, and federal affairs where they again had the right to a hearing, to have an interpreter, and to receive a decision in writing with reasons and could remain in the country throughout the process. A representative from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could observe at both stages. The Proclamation also authorized the head of SIRAA to designate classes of persons as prima facie refugees under the African Refugee Convention definition, but it did not do so during the year. Nevertheless, the Government granted asylum seekers from southern Somalia refugee status prima facie. Eligibility committees made up of staff members of SIRAA's Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs and UNHCR continued to make first instance decisions.

Some 50,000 Somalis entered between August 2006 and February 2007, and between 30,000 and 45,000 unregistered Somali asylum seekers lived in and around the capital Addis Ababa and other urban areas. During the year, 3,600 Eritreans and 700 Somalis applied formally for asylum, and SIRAA decided nearly 2,300 cases.

In February, UNHCR and the Governments of Ethiopia and Sudan signed a tripartite agreement for the repatriation of Sudanese refugees. UNHCR facilitated the return of more than 5,000 Sudanese and about a thousand left on their own but, pursuant to the agreement, Ethiopia continued to recognize the refugee status of those who did not volunteer to return. Third countries resettled nearly 800.

Detention/Access to Courts

Ethiopia did not detain refugees or asylum seekers for illegal entry, presence, work, or movement, but detained at least 41 for criminal offenses. Courts convicted at least eight in processes UNHCR monitored and found to be fair and on par with treatment of nationals. The Government released six released before trial, and 19 awaited 2007 trial dates. In addition, the Government kept several Eritreans in detention on national security grounds.

Pre-trial detentions were lengthy because few judges were available in the remote border areas where the Government kept the camps. The Federal High Court had no permanent presence there but made circuit rides. The Government provided free legal aid to criminal defendants, including refugees, but did not pay the lawyers, and their advocacy was often less than diligent. Traditional courts prosecuted camp-based refugees who committed minor offenses and usually fined them. UNHCR and ICRC had access to detained refugees or asylum seekers.

The Refugee Proclamation required SIRAA to issue identity cards to refugees and asylum seekers and prohibited their prosecution for illegal entry or presence, and the Government issued them to asylum seekers and refugees in urban areas but not to those in camps.

The Constitution extended to all its rights to liberty from arbitrary detention, due process in criminal prosecutions, and access to justice in civil matters.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Ethiopia required nearly all Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali refugees to live in seven camps near their respective borders and required them to obtain permits to leave. The Government issued permits specifying the period of travel to camp residents for personal, medical, educational, or safety reasons. In general, aid was restricted to refugees in camps or those with specific permission to live in urban areas. Some refugees of other nationalities chose to live in Sherkole camp in the west because aid was only available to them there.

According to the UNHCR-commissioned assessment of the socioeconomic situation in Ethiopia completed in May, thousands of unregistered Somali refugees lived in urban centers, mainly Addis Ababa. They reported choosing to live in Addis Ababa because of its security, relative to the camps; economic opportunities in the informal economy; and because they had originated from Mogadishu and were unaccustomed to rural life.

The Government and UNHCR jointly adjudicated refugees' written applications for international travel documents for educational, work-related, or urgent personal reasons and issued four of them.

The Constitution provided that "any ... foreign national lawfully in Ethiopia has, within the national territory, the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence, as well as the freedom to leave the country at any time he wishes" but reserved the right of re-entry to nationals. The Refugee Proclamation gave refugees the right to international travel documents but authorized the head of SIRAA to designate areas where refugees and asylum seekers must live "provided that the areas designated shall be located at a reasonable distance from the border of their country of origin or of former habitual residence." There was, however, no such formal designation in 2006.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

In general, Ethiopia did not allow refugees to work. The Government only granted work permits to foreigners when there were no qualified nationals available and rarely issued permits to refugees. The Government also tolerated some refugees with special skills working illegally, and refugee participation in the informal sector, including trading in markets or doing other piecemeal jobs. Many of the unregistered Somali refugees living in Addis Ababa worked informally.

The Constitution offered only citizens the right to work, granted the rights to join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike and other labor rights generally. The Proclamation exercised Ethiopia's reservation to the 1951 Convention's right to work, placing the same restrictions on refugees as on other foreigners.

The Constitution offered only citizens the right to run enterprises and provided that only the state could own land, and reserved its limited property rights to citizens. Only permanent residents could operate newspapers. No foreigner could own a radio or television station, but refugees could hold title to and transfer other types of property.

Public Relief and Education

The 50,000 Somalis who entered toward the end of the year received no aid except from family and clan members in Ethiopia. UNHCR was unable to help until it had screened them. UNHCR continued to send food to refugees in the Gambella region in spite of the ethnic conflict, but travel restrictions prevented adequate monitoring of deliveries.

Government clinics in camps provided refugees with health services, including essential drugs. In general, refugees and asylum seekers outside camps received services from Government hospitals on par with nationals, including free anti-retroviral treatment. UNHCR's implementing partner reimbursed Ethiopian hospitals for the treatment of refugees. Most Eritreans received identity cards and six-month renewable residence permits that allowed them to use hospitals and other public services, but local government officials reportedly denied free treatment to some indigent Eritreans.

The Government provided free primary education to refugees in camps, with the exception of Shimelba camp in the north, where the International Rescue Committee provided it. Refugees in urban areas attended public school with Ethiopian children.

Rather than open a new camp in Tigray for arriving Eritrean asylum seekers, the Government and UNHCR placed them in Shimelba camp and spent some of the money set aside for the new camp on health, education, and sanitation projects for the host community.

The Constitution limited its offer of equal access to publicly-funded services to citizens. The Proclamation exercised Ethiopia's reservation to the 1951 Convention's right to primary education, placing the same restrictions on refugees and their children as on other foreigners.

Ethiopia generally cooperated with and granted access to UNHCR and other agencies aiding refugees. The 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors included refugees, but only as an example of social crisis affecting development and as a potential high-risk group to target for HIV/AIDS prevention. It did not include them in any development plans.

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