Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

Ethiopia: Information on the possible arrest and deportation of Ethiopian-citizen spouses and dependants of "ethnic Eritreans"

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 20 October 2000
Citation / Document Symbol ETH01001.ZAR
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ethiopia: Information on the possible arrest and deportation of Ethiopian-citizen spouses and dependants of "ethnic Eritreans", 20 October 2000, ETH01001.ZAR , available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
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.


Are there reports of Ethiopian-citizen spouses or dependents of "ethnic Eritreans" being arrested or deported from Ethiopia?


The expulsion of people of Eritrean origin or heritage from Ethiopia-which took place mainly in 1998 and 1999-was not subject to due process of law. Individuals were, in most cases, detained by police or other security officials, held for a period of time (which varied from a day to weeks or months), and then put on buses for the journey to the Eritrea-Ethiopia border which they were forced to cross, often under very difficult conditions. There was no right of appeal against deprivation of liberty or property or for the suffering caused in the process. Though the decision to expel Eritreans from Ethiopia was made at the highest levels of government, it appears that much regarding the actual operation of the expulsions depended on decisions made at lower levels.

The most common situation concerning an Ethiopian spouse (with no connection to Eritrea beyond marriage to a person of Eritrean origin or heritage) was for the spouses to be divided, with the Eritrean partner expelled and the Ethiopian spouse remaining-in some cases even if s/he wanted to leave too, for example if the family breadwinner was being expelled. One study found "many cases of mixed Eritrean-Ethiopian marriages in which the Eritrean spouses were methodically plucked out of their families and expelled, leaving the Ethiopian spouses behind and their children in legal and emotional quandary. Research reveals that of all the people expelled from Ethiopia in 1998, there were 12 percent such cases or more than 800 such couples. In each of these cases the couple was broken up and the Eritrean half was expelled" (Legesse, 30 Mar. 2000, p.32). In some cases, the same study found, "the deportation authorities also violate Ethiopian law by sometimes deporting Ethiopians married to Eritreans" (Legesse, 22 Feb. 1999, p.18). According to this study, there have been cases where both spouses and their children were deported for being a "Sha'biya [term used for Eritreans by Ethiopian authorities] family" (Legesse, 22 Feb. 1999, p.27). However, it appears that the more common situation where there was a marriage between Ethiopian and Eritrean partners was for the Eritrean spouse to be expelled and the Ethiopian spouse to have to remain. (See, for example, Amnesty International, "Ethiopia and Eritrea: Human Rights Issues in a Year of Armed Conflict," 21 May 1999, p.14).

The situation in respect to children of expelled Eritreans is more complex and the criteria apparently more arbitrary for whether they would stay in Ethiopia or be expelled with a parent. According to one study of the expulsions, "the Ethiopian police have exercised complete random discretion to decide which family members stay and which are deported" (Klein, 1999, p.13). This appears to be borne out from other studies of the expulsions. A United Nations Development Programme study found that among two groups of people expelled from Ethiopia (totaling about 250 people, of whom about two-thirds were men, and including only 11 children) "almost all adults who were married or had children had been separated from their spouses and children." Most of the men reported that they had "left their wives and children behind. Many had pleaded to bring their children but had been refused. One man was able to bring his six year old son because the boy's mother was dead, but he had other children left behind" (UNDP, 22 July 1998, p.4). But among another group of 1,987 expelled people, 511 were children under the age of eighteen. "It seemed that the decision about whether to let children accompany was arbitrary and depended on the attitudes of local officials, some of whom were more lenient than others" (UNDP, 22 July 1998, p.4).

It appears that in some cases family members were expelled at different times, thus exacerbating the suffering caused to families. Amnesty International stated that "In some cases mothers were taken away without being allowed to arrange for the care of their children and families, and families were deliberately and systematically split up and expelled in different batches, months apart" (AI, 21 May 1999).

There is little evidence of a systematic policy directed from the top regarding what to do about family members of expelled people of Eritrean origin or heritage-thus, as the above studies suggest, local officials had a good deal of discretion in whether to expel an Eritrean parent alone or to allow (or even force) children to accompany the parent on the journey to Eritrea. One indication of the existence of a government policy regarding family members (at least for a period) is provided in the UNDP study of expelled Eritreans, which reported that "a number [of those being expelled]. . . had heard on Ethiopian radio while waiting in the transit camp in Adwa that the government had announced that children with one Ethiopian (non-Eritrean) parent would be considered Ethiopian and by no means allowed to depart Ethiopia. Many of the men interviewed expressed concern about this new policy, stating that their wives and families would not be able to survive without their salaries" (UNDP, 22 July 1998, p.6).

It is clear that many children were expelled from Ethiopia with their parent or parents and there are even some cases of children being expelled alone (see UNDP, 22 July 1998. p.8-citing the case of a twelve-year-old boy who was expelled alone). There are also numerous reports of children being left behind in Ethiopia-in many cases without any relative to look after them-when a parent was expelled. The fate of children in the expulsion process appears to have depended heavily on momentary and seemingly arbitrary decisions by local Ethiopian officials in charge of the expulsions.

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.


Amnesty International (AI). 21 May 1999. "Ethiopia and Eritrea: Human Rights Issues in a Year of Armed Conflict" (London: Amnesty International) [Internet] URL:

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), p. 11. [Internet] URL:

Legesse, Asmarom. 30 March 2000. The Uprooted - Part Three: Studies of Urban Eritreans Expelled from Ethiopia, Villagers Expelled from Tigrai and Communities in Eritrea displaced by Bombardment. (Asmara, Eritrea: Citizens for Peace in Eritrea).

Legesse, Asmarom. 22 February 1999. The Uprooted - Part Two: A Scientific Survey of Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia Conducted with Regard to Human Rights Violations. (Asmara, Eritrea: Citizens for Peace in Eritrea) [Internet] URL:

Legesse, Asmarom. 26 July 1998. The Uprooted: Case Material on Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia Concerning Human Rights Violations. (Asmara, Eritrea: Citizens for Peace in Eritrea).

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asmara-Eritrea. "Update on Deportees: 12-19 July 1998." [Internet] URL:.

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