Ethiopia figures


Ethiopia hosted more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including about 85,200 assisted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and about 50,000 de facto refugees living on their own. The total included about 64,000 Somalis who fled the collapse of the Somali state in 1991 or more recent turmoil and about 25,000 Sudanese who fled the civil war in the south of Sudan.

Ethiopia also hosted some 42,000 Eritrean refugees, including ethnic Kunama, who the Eritrean Government had accused of supporting Ethiopia in the 1998 to 2000 dispute; evangelical Christians fleeing religious persecution; and newer arrivals fleeing forced conscription.

Ethiopia had invaded Somalia in 2006 and overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts in early 2007, but guerrilla threats and factional tension drove thousands more refugees into Ethiopia during the year.

Most Sudanese, who had fled the 21-year war between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, lived in four camps near the western border.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized under its mandate nearly 1,500 refugees in urban areas, mostly from Somalia, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Summary of 2008

There were no reports of refoulement but armed groups reportedly recruit refugees out of Shiraro and Shimelba camps, near the border with Eritrea. Some refugees also reported harassment by the local community, especially in urban areas, with two fights over personal disputes in 2009 leading to injuries but no e deaths.

There were also no reports of detention of refugees other than for common crimes although the Government kept several Eritreans in detention on national security grounds, allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit them.

UNHCR managed to issue Household Attestation documents to all newly recognized refugees in both the Somali and Afar regions but the Government delayed their distribution to the Eritrean population for unspecified security reasons. The Government also failed to deliver attestations for Sudanese refugees that UNHCR had prepared.

The Government began implementing a 2007 policy to allow Eritrean refugees to live outside Shimelba if they had family who could support them, proof of acceptance by an Ethiopian educational institution and financial support, or proof of sufficient remittances to support them. When refugees applied under the first condition, the Government's Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) visited the family outside the camp and required them to sign obligations to financially provide for the refugee. ARRA expected the refugee to live wherever the family lives or the educational institution is or to the town ARRA selected.

About 10,000 Eritreans and thousands of Somalis arrived. The Government and UNHCR opened new refugee camps northeast of Jijiga (Sheder) and in Tigray National Regional State (My Ayni) for Somalis and Eritreans, respectively. Some 3,000 Eritreans left for Egypt and Sudan and other destinations although Egypt forced many of them back.

Some 25,000 refugees from South Sudan went home, enabling UNHCR to close Bonga and Dimma camps in the west. More than 300 refugees left for resettlement and UNHCR and the Government helped more than 10,200 Sudanese refugees return to their homes.

The Government gave greater freedom of movement to some Eritrean refugees with family members living outside of the camps than it had in the past.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection

The 2004 Refugee Proclamation establishes a procedure for applying for asylum and incorporates the refugee definitions from both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status on Refugees and the 1969 African Refugee Convention, including Africans fleeing war and generalized violence. It prohibits 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 grants refugees some rights but makes exceptions to those of movement and work.

According to the Proclamation, persons can apply whether in the country legally or not, but have to submit their applications to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) or a police station within 15 days of arrival. Applicants have the right to interpreters at all stages of the hearing and to receive decisions in writing, including the reasons for them. UNHCR may observe at this stage.

The Proclamation provided rejected applicants with a right of appeal within 30 days to an Appeal Hearing Council with members from the ministries of justice, federal affairs, and foreign affairs as well as the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs. UNHCR is to participate as an observer. In 2008, the Council adopted internal guidelines specifying procedure further. Once again, applicants are to have a hearing, an interpreter, and a decision in writing with reasons; they also have the right to remain in the country throughout the process. There is no provision for judicial appeal.

The Proclamation also authorizes the head of NISS to designate classes of persons as prima facie refugees under the African Refugee Convention definition. It did not do so in 2008 but, in practice, the Government treats persons from southern Somalia as prima facie refugees.

In reality, ARRA screens Eritrean refugees without UNHCR monitoring at Inda Abaguna near the border. The Eligibility Committee in Addis Ababa made up of ARRA and UNHCR staff has a high grant rate but hears only the few allowed to live in Addis Ababa. Authorities send most asylum seekers to the camps where there are separate hearings and no appeal.

Ethiopia is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol – with reservations treating the 1951 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 (African Refugee Convention). The 1995 Constitution makes international agreements "an integral part of the law of the land" and gives the executive and legislative branches specific authority to provide asylum.

In 2006, UNHCR signed an agreement with the Sudanese and Ethiopian Governments to repatriate some 30,000 Sudanese refugees in 2008 and the remaining 11,000 in 2009.

Detention/Access to Courts

Traditional justice systems in the camps try refugees accused of minor offences and, if they fail to solve them, refer them to the traditional court system outside the camp. The criminal justice system tries refugees accused of serious offences. Pre-trial detentions are lengthy because few judges are available in the remote border areas where the Government keeps the camps. The Federal High Court has no permanent presence there but makes circuit rides. The Government provides free legal aid to criminal defendants, including refugees, but does not pay the lawyers. UNHCR and ICRC have access to detained refugees and asylum seekers.

The 2004 Refugee Proclamation requires NISS to issue identity cards to refugees and asylum seekers and prohibits their prosecution for illegal entry or presence. The Government issues identity cards to asylum seekers and refugees in urban areas, but not to those in camps. UNHCR seeks to issue attestation The Government issues most Eritreans identity cards and six-month renewable residence permits.

The Constitution extends to all its rights to liberty from arbitrary detention, due process in criminal prosecutions, and access to justice in civil matters. According to UNFPA, however, "There appears to be little legal recourse for GBV issues" in Shimelba and Kebribeyah camps. According to UNHCR, there are no functioning SGBV referral systems in the Sudanese or Somali camps and no proper follow-up on incidents "unless exceptionally brutal or involving minors."

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Ethiopia requires nearly all Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali refugees to live in seven camps near their respective borders and requires them to obtain permits to leave. The Government issues permits specifying the period of travel to camp residents for medical treatment, higher education, or security threats. The Government issues location-specific Orange Cards to Eritreans it allows to leave the camps. Other refugees, including the Sudanese, may request a Pass Permit from ARRA for limited, time-bound freedom of movement.

The immigration ministry issues international travel documents to refugees pursuant to UNHCR requests. Refugees must apply to UNHCR in writing specifying educational, work-related, or urgent personal reasons and providing supporting documents, such as proof of sponsorship or education grant. UNHCR and the Government jointly adjudicate the sufficiency of such applications and granted ten of them in 2008.

The 1995 Constitution provides 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 reserves the right of reentry to nationals. The 2004 Refugee Proclamation gives refugees the right to international travel documents, but authorizes the head of NISS 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."

Right to Earn a Livelihood

In general, Ethiopia does not allow refugees to work. The Government only grants work permits to foreigners when there are no qualified nationals available and rarely issues permits to refugees. The Government also tolerates some refugees with special skills working illegally. Authorities tolerate refugee participation in the informal sector, including trading in markets or doing other piecemeal jobs.

The 1995 Constitution offers only citizens the right to work; and also grants them the right to join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike, as well as to other labor rights generally. The 2004 Proclamation exercises Ethiopia's reservation to the 1951 Convention's right to work, placing the same restrictions on refugees as on other foreigners.

Authorities restrict kitchen gardens in Sherkole, Kebribeyah, and Shimelba camps to less than 15 percent of refugee households. Authorities ban the cutting of live wood in most camps, compelling residents to travel 4 to 10 km or more for deadwood, risking injury, attack, and rape.

The Constitution offers only citizens the right to run enterprises and reserves other limited property rights to citizens. Refugees, however, can hold title to and transfer other types of property.

Public Relief and Education

Government clinics in camps provide health services, including drugs and, in some cases, HIV testing, to refugees and locals. In general, refugees and asylum seekers outside camps receive services from Government hospitals on par with nationals, including free anti-retroviral treatment. UNHCR's implementing partner reimburses medical bills for the treatment of refugees. Most Eritreans can use hospitals and other public services.

Government schools do not accept refugees, but UNHCR contributes to private primary school tuition, uniforms, transportation, and books for students in Addis Ababa. ARRA runs primary schools in all the camps except Shimelba where international NGOs run them.

In urban areas, UNHCR gives refugees monthly subsistence allowances for food and rent and yearly allowances for clothing.

The 1995 Constitution limits its offer of equal access to publicly funded services to citizens. The 2004 Proclamation exercises 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's 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for international donors includes refugees, but only as an example of the "social crisis" affecting development and as a potential high-risk group to target for HIV/AIDS prevention. The Government enacted a new law on Charities and Civil Society Organizations in 2008, limiting the scope of both international and local NGOs, but did not implement it or establish the agency it tasks with monitoring compliance.


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