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Overview of the Expulsion Campaign

As noted, during the course of the war Ethiopian authorities forcibly expelled some 75,000 Ethiopians of Eritrean origin.

On June 11, 1998, approximately one month after the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia began, the Ethiopian government issued a "policy" statement. According to the statement, the "550,000 Eritreans residing in Ethiopia" could continue to live and work peacefully there. The Ethiopian government was committed to ensuring "good and brotherly relations and peaceful coexistence with Eritreans residing both in Ethiopia and Eritrea."41 However, as a "precautionary measure," the statement ordered members of Eritrean political and community organizations to leave the country on account of their suspected support of the Eritrean war effort. It ordered a mandatory leave of absence of one month for people of Eritrean origin occupying "sensitive" jobs.42 Those expelled would be allowed to appoint agents to administer their properties, the statement pledged, and their dependents would be given the choice of either staying behind or accompanying them.

The first wave of arrests and expulsions began the following day, on June 12, 1998. In this first wave, the Ethiopian government targeted people of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia who were prominent in business, politics, or community organizations.43 On June 18, 1998, the Ethiopian foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, explained that the government planned to expel "a few individuals contributing financial and material support to the war efforts" of the Eritrean government.44 The foreign minister explained that while disloyal Ethiopian Eritreans would be expelled, those who supported the Ethiopian government would not be targeted.45

In conjunction with this first wave of arrests and expulsions, people of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia who held jobs in what were deemed "security sensitive" sectors lost their jobs under a policy of "enforced leave." Although the enforced leave policy was announced as a temporary measure pending review of individual circumstances, such individualized reviews apparently never took place, and Human Rights Watch is unaware of any case in which a person subject to the enforced leave policy was later reinstated in his or her job.

During the early phase of the Ethiopian government's campaign against individuals of Eritrean origin (and against undisputed Eritrean nationals), Ethiopian authorities also sought to purge individuals of Eritrean origin and of Eritrean nationality from international and regional organizations based in Addis Ababa. Thus, Ethiopian authorities pressured the OAU, the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and international aid organizations to arrange for the departure of employees who were Eritreans or of Eritrean origin. In some cases, Eritreans and individuals of Eritrean origin who worked for international and regional organizations were simply expelled by the Ethiopian government without notice or consultation with the employing organization.46 By June 1999, thirty-eight U.N. employees and dozens of employees of the OAU had been expelled.

The Ethiopian government also targeted people with experience or training in the Eritrean military. On June 13, 1998, the police were instructed to begin "selective questioning" of individuals who had undergone military training in Eritrea.47 Up to 1,500 former Eritrean soldiers and graduates of the national service in Eritrea were sent from these interrogations directly to internment camps where smaller numbers later joined them. A spokesperson for the Ethiopian government explained that the arrests were undertaken in order to safeguard national security and that individuals of Eritrean origin who led a "peaceful life" would not be affected.48

However, despite the Ethiopian government's policy statement of June 11 that only individuals deemed to pose "a security risk to the state" faced expulsion, after June 1998, the Ethiopian government was expelling mostly ordinary people. The justification for these expulsions was simply the expellees' suspect status as "Eritreans"-a determination usually arrived at without input from the expellees and which they were not permitted to challenge administratively or judicially.

In many cases, people were identified to the local authorities as "Eritrean" by co-workers, neighbors or other informants. Lists of people identified as "Eritrean" were occasionally published in newspapers and other periodicals. For example, on June 10, 1998, the newspaper Fiameta published an article calling the U.N. ECA in Addis Ababa a second "Embassy of Eritrea" and naming people of supposed-Eritrean origin who were prominent within the organization. A letter to the editor published the following month in the same newspaper listed another fifteen "Eritreans" employed at ECA.49

By the middle of 1999, the Ethiopian government no longer routinely justified the expulsions on national security grounds, but increasingly characterized the expulsions as part of a program of "family reunification"50 or "voluntary repatriation."51 Many of the first expellees were male heads of household; their wives and children were expelled subsequently. For some individuals, it was preferable to depart Ethiopia under these "programs" than to continue being forcibly separated from family members who had already been expelled or to continue being subject to governmental discrimination against people of Eritrean origin. The Ethiopian government's assertion that these programs were purely voluntary is untenable in light of the government's aggressive campaign of harassment, expulsion and discrimination against people of Eritrean origin.

Also framing the expulsion campaign was the Ethiopian government's contention within a month of the first expulsions that the targets of the campaign were not Ethiopian citizens. As early as July 1998, the Ethiopian prime minister used the term "foreigners" to characterize those destined for expulsion.52

In July 1999, the strategy of expulsions crystallized: the government issued a press release declaring that those who had registered to vote in the 1993 referendum on Eritrean independence had thereby acquired Eritrean citizenship and that the Ethiopian Government was therefore justified in rescinding their citizenship rights. "The government of Ethiopia has a legal right to expel Eritreans deemed to be a risk to national security because they are citizens of a foreign country," concluded the July 9, 1999 statement, which argued:

The individuals that have been expelled by the Ethiopian government over the course of the past year are citizens of Eritrea. None of them are citizens of Ethiopia. They are Eritrean citizens because they registered to vote in Eritrea's 1993 referendum on independence. The Eritrean Referendum Proclamation of May 1992 clearly limits participation in the referendum to naturalized citizens of the State of Eritrea. In order to register, one had to provide proof of Eritrean citizenship, namely, an identification card issued by the Department of Internal Affairs, in accordance with the provisions of Eritrea's 1992 Nationality Proclamation. Individuals who are citizens of Eritrea cannot simultaneously be citizens of Ethiopia because there are no provisions for dual citizenship.

According to the Constitution of the FDRE, when an individual adopts foreign citizenship (e.g. Eritrean citizenship), s/he loses Ethiopian citizenship as a result. Both the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments recognized that voting in the 1993 referendum signified one's Eritrean citizenship long before the current conflict began. This understanding of Eritrean citizenship, which Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed on for purposes of the Ethio-Eritrean extradition treaty, is indistinguishable from the understanding of Eritrean citizenship that applies to Ethiopia's expulsion policy.53

    Finally, on August 14, 1999, the Ethiopian government ordered people of Eritrean origin aged eighteen and older, who had voted in the 1993 referendum on Eritrea's independence, as well as those who had formally acquired Eritrean citizenship, to register for alien residence permits with the Security, Immigration, and Refugee Affairs Authority within two weeks or face unspecified legal action.54 Prior to this time, the Ethiopian government had not applied the alien registration rule to Eritreans in Ethiopia. The order seems to have been motivated in part by the desire to justify after the fact the deportation of people of Eritrean origin by formally categorizing them as aliens, as well as to drive those of Eritrean origin who remained in Ethiopia to leave.55

Daily life became more precarious for people of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia after the alien registration order went into effect. First, the registration gave the Ethiopian government an easily accessible record of the identities, addresses, and property of this population. Second, the alien identity card had to be renewed every six months, so that people of Eritrean origin remained uncertain of their ability to permanently reside in Ethiopia. Third, discrimination by local authorities and private individuals against people of Eritrean origin became more pervasive. Denied employment and business licenses, many were left without any means of support. Because of an intense climate of hostility towards people of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia, it was also dangerous even for their friends and neighbors to be seen to be assisting expellees or their families.

Expulsion Campaign Procedures in Urban Areas

The expulsion process for individuals from urban areas conformed to an established pattern. The vast majority were initially arrested at their homes; the rest were usually seized at their workplace. In most instances, local policemen accompanied by local government (kebele) officials conducted arrests of those to be expelled.56 The officials generally arrived at the expellee's home in the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning and asked for one or more family member by name, indicating that such person or persons must accompany them immediately to the local police station "for questioning." No other reasons were usually given for the summons. Generally, the police did not produce arrest warrants as required by law. Few, if any, expellees resisted the police demands.57

Interrogation by "Processing Committee" at Police Station
Once in the custody of the police and local officials, expellees were generally brought to the local police station where they were questioned by a "processing committee" of policemen, security agents, and political officials from the ruling party. The processing committee normally asked each detainee to state his or her name, address, occupation, and whether the individual had supported the ruling party in Eritrea or was a member of an Eritrean community organization. Expellees were also questioned about family members. The interrogation at the police station was the only formal procedural check of the identity and suspected affiliations of the expellees. During the interrogation, the expellees were not given a meaningful opportunity to refute the allegation that they were not Ethiopian citizens and that they were security risks. They were not informed of the legal basis for their detention, and were not able to avail themselves of regular judicial proceedings to challenge their treatment.58

While the expellees were in custody at the police station, Ethiopian officials searched for and confiscated their Ethiopian identification documents, including identity cards, passports, work papers, driving licenses, and the like. Some expellees managed to retain some identification documents, either by hiding them, or because they had not had a chance to bring the documents with them when they were detained.


    In conjunction with the expulsion campaign, the Ethiopian government revoked business licenses and ordered the freezing of assets of thousands of individuals of Eritrean origin. Those with bank accounts were informed that their accounts had been frozen and were inaccessible. The government did not provide any avenue for affected individuals to challenge or reverse these actions.

In its June 11, 1998 statement, the Ethiopian government had promised that expellees would be afforded an opportunity to appoint agents to oversee their assets. Frequently, however, expellees were not given an opportunity to appoint a personal representative.59 Those who did so were often required to assign power of attorney in a manner that did not conform to Ethiopian law. Some expellees refused to fill out power of attorney documents because of the irregularity of the procedures.

Generally, the appointment of personal representatives, when it took place, occurred while expellees were in custody at the local police station. Members of the "processing committees" asked detainees to declare whether or not they possessed any property or assets. Those who answered in the affirmative were generally given blank sheets of paper to list and dispose of their assets and were also told to fill in power of attorney forms. In the coercive environment of the interrogation, many expellees believed that they were being made to list their assets in order to facilitate the confiscation of their property by Ethiopian authorities, and some refused to list their belongings or assign their interests. Under duress, many expellees assigned powers of attorney to a person to whom they would not ordinarily have entrusted such authority. Although Ethiopian law requires that the appointment of an agent be formalized by filing papers with a court, expellees often were made to appoint agents without the opportunity to properly notarize their power of attorney documents.

Those in the first wave of expulsions had little or no prior notice of their detention and expulsion, and thus were not able to dispose of their property before being taken into custody by Ethiopian authorities.60 As a result, the only opportunity many had to make arrangements to protect their property was to cede power of attorney while they were in police custody as directed by the interrogation panel. The first wave of expulsions, in particular, targeted many successful businessmen in the areas of transport, construction, electronics, and food processing, many of whom incurred huge property losses as a result of seizures by the Ethiopian government or by ordinary Ethiopians taking advantage of their forced departure.61

While many of those who were expelled in subsequent phases of the expulsion campaign were able to dispose of at least some of their property prior to being detained, wide-spread knowledge about the expulsions created an atmosphere of duress regarding the sale of property by individuals of Eritrean origin.62 As a result, many of those facing expulsion were forced to sell their businesses and other belongings for far less than market value.63

During the expulsion campaign, Ethiopian authorities took steps to limit the ability of Ethiopians of Eritrean origin to dispose of their property before being expelled. For example, one expellee we interviewed was prevented from selling his car prior to his expulsion. The ministry of transport required him to renew his Ethiopian identity card at the local council office prior to formalizing the transfer of ownership, and the local council would not do so saying that it had been forbidden to renew the identity card of any "Eritrean."64 Another expellee reported that after his expulsion, police and local authorities tried to coerce his wife into canceling a contract to transfer the ownership of their house to a family friend; when she refused to cancel the contract, she was expelled.65

The Ethiopian government also harassed and intimidated those suspected of assisting people of Eritrean origin who had been expelled or faced expulsion, further contributing to the financial and property loss of the expellees. As a result, many people assigned powers of attorney were too afraid for their own security to risk attempting to communicate with expellees or carry out any actions on their behalf. Finally, people who had been expelled from the country were powerless even to contact others in order to direct the disposition and management of their property in Ethiopia. Telephone and other communications lines from Eritrea, where most expellees landed, and Ethiopia were cut off and expellees had no access to the Ethiopian courts to enforce their claims there.

Almost all expellees from urban areas were interned, often under very harsh conditions, prior to being expelled. The majority of the expellees were held for days or weeks, although some were held for as long as several months.66 Prior to their expulsion, the Ethiopian authorities moved urban expellees through a series of increasingly centralized internment sites holding ever larger groups of detainees.67 The last detention site for most urban expellees from the capital city region was a large camp at the Shogole military barracks, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, which generally held several hundred expellees at a time, according to former detainees.
At the police lockups, most detainees had to rely on food provided by their families, but relatives were only sporadically and unpredictably allowed access to the detainees. While some expellees were able to receive food, medication, or clothes from family members, many others were denied contact with their families and thus were not able to obtain needed goods. Furthermore, many expellees were arrested, detained, and expelled without ever being able to bid their families goodbye.68

The police lockups and detention camps had inadequate space and facilities for the expellees, endangering their health and safety. Many detention camps provided no toilets or washing facilities.69 The first expellees to be held at Shogole camp were housed in large hangars of sheet-metal which were full of human and animal feces that the detainees had to clean out.70 Detainees at police lockups and detention camps were also frequently made to sleep on the floor. The Ethiopian authorities provided little access to health care for the detained expellees.71 In both lockups and camps, food was also reportedly inadequate.72

Some incidents of torture were reported,73 but many expellees described beatings in the detention camps and verbal abuse appears to have been widespread. Members of the first group held for expulsion at Shogole camp, in mid June 1998, said verbal abuse and beatings were common. Among the dozens interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Asmara, however, few reported that they themselves had been beaten. According to testimonies from former internees, incidents of ill-treatment and beatings had occurred in Fiche and Bilate camps for men of military age or background.74


    Coming after periods of days or months in harsh conditions of internment, the long bus trip to the northern border, where the majority of expellees crossed into Eritrea, was for many the hardest part of the expulsion ordeal. The expellees were transported in bus convoys. An average convoy from Addis Ababa took between three and five days to reach the border. Conditions during the trip to the border were extremely crowded and uncomfortable. Many of the most vulnerable, including breast-feeding mothers, small children, and the elderly, were on the verge of collapse by the time they crossed the border.

The bus convoys regularly stopped en route for hours at a time in order to coordinate with buses traveling from other points. During these periods, which routinely lasted for several hours, expellees were not allowed outside the buses. The Ethiopian authorities also limited the expellees' access to toilet facilities. Expellees were generally allowed to leave the bus only late at night to sleep in the courtyards of schools and other public buildings along the route to the border. The Ethiopian authorities supplied the expellees on the bus convoy with only limited water and food. After the first wave of forced departures, word of lack of food and water having spread, expellees tried to prepare themselves for the arduous journey by bringing their own provisions.

Like the initial arrests, the departures of the buses full of internees to collection centers and to the border occurred mostly at night or in the early morning hours. This appeared to be out of concern of possible public backlash against the expulsion process.75 The orchestration of bus movements indicated a centrally commanded and controlled operation. A convoy of five buses originating in Addis Ababa would generally be joined by twenty to twenty-five additional buses by the time it reached the border. 76 Ethiopian security personnel and policemen on each bus guarded the expellees throughout the trip. A team of three to five policemen and security agents which traveled in four-wheel drive vehicles at the head of the bus convoy maintained communication with the guards on the buses via radio.

During the first few months of the expulsion campaign, the convoys transported the expellees to border crossings with Eritrea at Assab, Zalembessa, Mereb, or Humera.77 By late 1998, Ethiopian authorities were transporting most expellees to the Assab border crossing, the most difficult and isolated of the four routes. Bus convoys traveled from Addis Ababa to the northern border crossings, including Assab, for days through the Danakil desert to reach the border. The expellees then were made to cross the border on foot before reaching the first Eritrean post on the other side of the border.

Not all expellees were bused to Ethiopia's common border with Eritrea. Hundreds fled or were expelled through Ethiopia's southern border with Djibouti. Early on in the expulsion campaign, Ethiopian authorities also expelled many people of Eritrean origin through the southern border with Kenya and many more fled to that country.78 A handful of individuals, including Eritrean exchange students, humanitarian workers, and on at least one occasion, an elderly disabled person, were expelled by plane via Bole international airport in Addis Ababa, usually after protracted international mediation and the cooperation of the International Red Cross.79

In general, the expulsions were timed to coincide with periods of relative quiet in the military conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which was characterized by short periods of intense fighting alternating with longer periods of relative calm. Because of logistical limits on the number of buses, other equipment, and personnel available, the Ethiopian government could deport a maximum of 2,000 people at a given time. In most periods of quiet in the war, the Ethiopian authorities expelled several batches of between 1,600 and 2,000 people, in consecutive waves of expulsions. To date, the Ethiopian government has not permitted expellees from Ethiopia to return.

Individual Stories

M.G.'s Story
Human Rights Watch interviewed several deportees from Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, a resort fifty kilometers south of Addis Ababa. According to the expellees, individuals of Eritrean origin in the town felt the impact of the Ethiopian Government's hardening stance against people of Eritrean origin even before the expulsion campaign was announced. Shortly after the war broke out, in early June 1998, the Debre Zeit town council summoned leaders of the local branch of the Eritrean Community Organization (COM)80 to a meeting. At the meeting the town council asked the COM leaders to issue a statement from their organization expressing support of Ethiopia's position in the war. The COM leaders demurred, saying that they were happy to issue a statement calling on both countries to pursue a peaceful solution to their differences. It was clear that the COM leaders proposal did not satisfy the governmental authorities involved. According to the deportees, this was why leaders of COM were among the first to be targeted by the Ethiopian government. M.G.'s story is typical of many who were caught in the first wave of the expulsion campaign.

In June 1998, M.G., a married mother of three, was thirty-eight. She lived with her husband and five children in the town of Debre Zeit. Her husband worked at the Ethiopian air force base in the town. She worked for a private company as a full-time accountant, and also volunteered as a part-time auditor for the local COM chapter.

M.G. was born in Addis Ababa in 1960 to parents of Eritrean origin. She had lived all her life in Ethiopia, and just three years in what was then the Ethiopian province of Eritrea. During those three years-from age seventeen to twenty-she had lived with relatives in Asmara, the capital of the province. After meeting and marrying her husband there, she had settled with him in Debre Zeit, where they lived together for eighteen years. M.G.'s husband was not of Eritrean origin. Having registered to vote in the referendum on Eritrea's independence in 1993, M.G. carried an identification card issued by the provisional Eritrean authorities as well as her Ethiopian nationality documents.

At four in the morning during the second week of June 1998, M.G. was roused from her bed by seven armed policemen knocking at the door. M.G. came to the door in her nightgown, frightened.

According to M.G., the police "asked me whether I was Eritrean, and if I had volunteered for the local COM chapter. I said yes."81

The police presented M.G. with a police summons ordering her to appear at the local police station for questioning. Without allowing time to gather belongings, or even to get dressed, the police took M.G. still in her nightgown to the police station for interrogation. Some five policemen and security agents questioned her immediately after arrival. Dozens of other people were brought in even as she was being interrogated.

At the police station, policemen and security agents questioned M.G. about her relationship with COM. According to her account, the interrogating officials did not appear to expect to learn anything from their questioning of M.G., and seemed mostly interested in harassing her on account of her national origin and her participation in COM. She was also asked to provide the names of her children and husband.

After questioning her, security officials told M.G. that she was to be soon expelled to "her country." M.G. protested: "I told them that I was an Ethiopian, married to an Ethiopian, and mother of Ethiopian children, but nobody would listen to me."82 The police then seized her national identity papers from her, including her Ethiopian identity card and passport and her work license.

M.G. was detained at the police station for two days; her family was not permitted to see her during this time. After two days, she was transferred to Addis Ababa, jammed in the back of a municipal loader truck with dozens of other detainees. She and her companions were in the first group deported to Eritrea. Judicial authorities were not involved in any stage of M.G.'s arrest, interrogation, and expulsion.

K.M.'s story
In June 1998, K.M., a middle-aged professional, lived in Addis Abba with members of his family. K.M. worked for an organization within the United Nations. He was also active as a senior officer in COM, had participated in the referendum, and possessed the Eritrean identification card issued to those who registered as voters. He had never renounced his Ethiopian citizenship. In early June 1998, the head of personnel for his employer received a letter from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declaring K.M. persona non grata on security grounds. K.M. was arrested by the police from his home in the early hours in mid June 1998, and was expelled soon thereafter.

Shortly after K.M.'s expulsion his family was also expelled. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued his son an emergency travel document, entitled "Emergency document of identity issued to a non-Ethiopian national who cannot obtain or, owing to emergency circumstances, has no time to obtain a national passport or renew an expired one." On the document, K.M.'s son's nationality was given as "Eritrean." At his departure from Ethiopia, an airport immigration officer at the airport stamped the back of the travel document so that it reads "Expel" in English, and Expelled, Never to Return," in Amharic.83

Expulsion Procedures in Rural Areas

Individuals of Eritrean origin who lived in rural areas of Ethiopia, mostly in the north, were also subject to deportation. Frequently, whole villages whose inhabitants were of Eritrean origin were ordered to evacuate their villages by local government authorities and told to "return to their country." Typically, the rural deportees had to travel on foot from their villages in Ethiopia into Eritrea. They were generally not allowed to take personal possessions with them. Among the personal possessions rural deportees were forced to forfeit were thousands of heads of livestock.84 By July 2000, more than 3,500 rural residents of Ethiopia had been deported, for no apparent reason other than their national origin. Some expellees from rural areas were detained prior to being deported.

Human Rights Watch interviewed twenty-four rural deportees shortly after their arrival in a temporary resettlement camp in Molki, south-west Eritrea, on May 11, 1999. The interview subjects, all farmers and heads of household, had been expelled from the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia along with a total of sixty-six dependents. Eight of the twenty-four had been born in Ethiopia outside Eritrea. The rest were born in Eritrea when it was a province of Ethiopia and had migrated to the province of Tigray before 1990. All of the children who had been expelled had been born and lived all their lives in Tigray. Ten of the interview subjects held Eritrean identification cards dating from their participation in the 1993 referendum on Eritrean statehood.

The interview subjects said that they came from a small village in Tigray. Following weeks of harassment by local cadres of the ruling party, some fifty people decided to leave the village with their cattle, and to migrate to Eritrea. Soldiers stopped them on the way to the border, took possession of their cattle, and detained them for about a month, they said. By the time their number grew to 200 at the place of detention, including many women and children, the guards gathered them at the place of detention and directed them to leave for the Eritrean border on foot on the same day. They said that they were forced to leave all their possessions, including their cattle, behind. Policemen allowed them to take three kilos of flour per person for the journey. Several other interviewees said that local authorities had ordered them to evacuate their villages and return to their "country."

Reception of Expellees

By and large, while the government of Eritrea gave deportees from Ethiopia a warm reception, the governments of other neighboring countries, including Djibouti, Kenya, Malawi, and Sudan, did not.

The Eritrean government mobilized quickly to assist the deportees. The government-run Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (ERREC) was put in charge of assisting the deportees and facilitating their resettlement in Eritrea. A month after the arrival of the first deportees, the ERREC had set up reception centers for them near the main border crossings with Ethiopia. In addition to offering the deportees emergency aid and counseling, the ERREC registered them as refugees.

Expellees were asked to fill out a detailed registration form85 and were issued the same type of registration card that Eritrean refugees returning from exile received.86 Once registered, the deportees were entitled to the standard government assistance for returning refugees: including short-term housing, food, and settlement aid; medical coverage; and job placement assistance.87

The first waves of expellees from Ethiopia, largely made up of urban professionals and business people, resettled in Eritrea relatively quickly and easily. Jobs and government services were much harder to come by for those expelled from Ethiopia in later stages of the expulsion campaign because of the strain on Eritrea's economy of both the war and the influx of newcomers.

Rural deportees, many of whom are poor and uneducated and have little employment experience beyond farming, have generally fared less well once in Eritrea. Their stay in the temporary resettlement camp was meant to be brief: refugees were required to relocate to areas of Eritrea they had ties, however distant.

In the early stage of the conflict, expellees from Ethiopia met with a less than hospitable welcome in Kenya. For example, in September 1998, Kenyan authorities refused to grant asylum to approximately 120 people of Eritrean origin who, fleeing persecution in Ethiopia, had entered Kenya through the border town of Moyale in August. The Kenyan government justified its refusal to grant asylum to the expellees on the grounds that Kenya has no common borders with Eritrea although the asylum seekers were fleeing Ethiopia, a neighboring country, and not recently independent Eritrea. Eventually, the Eritrean embassy in Kenya and the International Organization of Migration financed and organized an airlift to Eritrea for the asylum seekers from Ethiopia who wished to take part.88 After initial hesitations, the UNHCR office in Nairobi also recognized as genuine the fear expressed by some expellees of being sent to Eritrea, and declared these expellees to be entitled to refugee protection in Kenya.89 Some of the asylum seekers did not want to travel to Eritrea because they had no links there. Others feared that they or their children would be recruited by the Eritrean military to fight against Ethiopia. Many simply hoped that the nightmare would end sooner rather than later and that they would be able to return to their normal lives as Ethiopians.

Another country with a poor record regarding reception of expellees from Ethiopia was Malawi. In August 1999, the Ethiopian government agreed to allow twenty-five individuals of Eritrean origin who had been held in Dedessa internment camp to depart to a third country.90 On August 14, 1999 the group flew from Addis Ababa and arrived at the airport in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, where they asked for asylum.

The Malawian authorities denied the expellees entry into the country, claiming that they were carrying fake visas. Despite the expellees' claims that they had properly obtained their visas at the Malawian embassy in Addis Ababa at the cost of $1,000 per visa, the expellees were detained for a week. 91 On August 21, Malawian police forced the group at gunpoint to board a flight bound for the Ethiopian capital. During the scuffle that ensued, one of the expellees was killed and seven others were wounded.92 All the expellees, including the wounded, were nevertheless forced into the airplane that brought them back to Ethiopia.93

Expulsions from Ethiopia After the December 2000 Peace Agreement

Expulsions from Ethiopia continued after its devastating May 2000 incursion in Eritrea, but gradually decreased over time. During 2000, 911 Eritrean nationals were returned to Eritrea under the auspices of the ICRC delegation in Eritrea.94 The U.N. secretary-general and the U.N. peacekeering mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea strongly protested the forced expulsion in June 2001 of 704 longtime residents of Eritrean origin from Tigray region to Eritrea. Both expressed concerns about the circumstances in which the expulsions took place, and reminded the Ethiopian government that such actions should be carried out only in accordance with international humanitarian law.95 The Ethiopian government claimed in its response that the group consisted of persons who had forfeited their Ethiopian citizenship, and had left voluntarily. However, the government promised that this would not happen again.96

Ethiopia deported another 312 people of Eritrean origin in November 2001. The group consisted of residents of Addis Ababa who sought "voluntary" deportation to join relatives deported in earlier groups.97 A group of one hundred people of Eritrean origin were later deported on March 16, 2002, ninety-two of them from the region of Tigray, and eight from Addis Ababa and the surrounding area.98 Members of the groups deported told human rights investigators of the U.N. peacekeeping mission that they were fleeing discrimination in access to employment and services or seeking to join relatives who had been deported before them.99

41 "Government says never to change policy on relations with Eritreans," Press Digest, vol. V, no. 25, June 18, 1998, quoting the Ethiopian Herald of June 13, 1998.

42 Ibid. Citing threats to national security, the government laid out in its statement the outlines of an official policy to deport Eritrean citizens residing in Ethiopia and certain categories of Ethiopians of Eritrean origin. The statement promised that senior officials of Eritrean community organizations and local chapters of the ruling Eritrean front who were "involved in activities detrimental to national security" would be expelled from the country. It also singled out for expulsion Eritrean businessmen who had engaged in "spying activities" or raised funds "in support of Sha'bia's [Arabic for "popular," a reference to the ruling front in Eritrea] aggression on Ethiopia."

43 In the town of Debre Zeit, for example, members of the local Ethiopian Community Organization and local branches of the Sha'bia party, the political party in power in Eritrea, were targeted in the days and weeks after the Ethiopian Government's declaration. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that after the secretary of the local branch of Sha'bia was arrested, police escorted him home from prison so that they could search the house for party documents. When he returned to the police lock-up, witnesses saw that his teeth had been broken. The detained party secretary told the other detainees that the police had beaten him and tried to get him to name members of the Sha'bia party, Human Rights Watch interviews, Asmara, May 1999.

44 "Ethiopian foreign minister explains expulsions," interview broadcast on Ethiopian TV on June 18, 1998, reported in BBC's Summary of World Broadcasts, June 22, 1998.

45 Ibid.

46 For example, in mid-1998, Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed Japan's International Cooperation Agency that a senior local employee must leave the country because he posed unspecified risks to national security. The agency's requests for clarifications went unanswered. In late October 1998 the employee was arrested. He was expelled shortly thereafter.

47 "Ethiopia calls in Eritrean residents for questioning," Agence France Presse, June 13, 1998.

48 "Sha'bia's army members in Ethiopia being detained, spokesperson," Press Digest, Vol. V, No. 25, June 18, 1998.

49 "Letter to the editor: ECA Mobile Eritrean Embassy?" Fiameta, No. 7/8, June, 1998.

50 In one of the first such instances, an Ethiopian government statement described the expulsion of 3,000 people- mostly dependents of people expelled earlier-on July 5 and 6, 1999 as a program of "family reunification." See Office of the Government Spokesperson, "370 Join Family in Eritrea," and "Family Reunion for Eritrean Expellees," Addis Ababa, press statements issued on September 5 and 22, 1998 respectively. See also "Horn of Africa: IRIN News Brief," July 20, 1999.

51 For example, the Ethiopian government said that 1,500 people who were bussed to the border in late October 1999 were participants in a "voluntary repatriation" program.

52 On July 9, 1998 Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told Radio Ethiopia that those expelled were "foreigners," and added ". . . any foreign national, whether Eritrean or Japanese etc. . . . lives in Ethiopia because of the good will of the Ethiopian government. If we say `Go, because we don't like the color of your eyes,' they have to leave." "Eritrea cites Ethiopian prime minister's view on expulsions," Asmara, July 10, 1998, Voices of the Broad Masses of Eritrea, reported in FBI-AIR-98-192, July 11,1998.

53 "Eritrea's baseless accusations," FDRE's Office of Government Spokesperson, July 9,1999.

54 All foreigners residing in Ethiopia are required by law to obtain and carry a residence permit issued by the Security, Immigration, and Refugee Affairs Authority. See "Eritreans begin registering as aliens in Ethiopia," Associated Press, Addis Ababa, August 16, 1999. See also "Ethiopia orders Eritrean residents to register," Reuters, Addis Ababa, August 15, 1999.

55 Eritrean advocates monitoring the expulsion campaign informed Human Rights Watch that by early November 1999, about 12,000 people of Eritrean origin had registered with the Ethiopian government as alien residents, and approximately 1,500 of these were then seeking to depart Ethiopia for Eritrea. Advocates meeting, Washington, DC, November 1,1999.

56 Kebeles are neighborhood committees that constitute the lowest level of local government in Ethiopia.

57 One instance of resistance to arrest was reported in the Ethiopian press in July 1999. In that case, the Ethiop newspaper reported that in district 2, Kebele 3 of Addis Ababa some of those ordered to go to the police station refused to obey and one "behaved very rudely ... finally the troublemaker was hand-cuffed and taken away." "3,000 Eritreans expelled to Asmara through Bure front," Ethiop, July 7, 1999, in Ethiopian Weekly Press Digest, vol. VI, no. 28, July 15, 1999, p.4.

58 Human Rights Watch interviews with people expelled, Asmara, May 1999.

59 For example, H.G. reported to Human Rights Watch that prior to his expulsion he was not allowed to nominate an agent or assign power-of-attorney to a family member. He estimated the losses from his small business at approximately 250,000 birr (approximately U.S. $31,250).

60 D.M., a policeman, reported to Human Rights Watch that he was forced to leave behind approximately 70,000 birr (U.S. $8,750) worth of small business assets, goods, and personal property. He did not nominate anyone to look after his interests because he didn't have the opportunity to do so. Human Rights Watch interviews, Asmara, May 1999.

61 B.T. estimated his losses at approximately 7 million birr (approximately U.S. $875,000.00); G.B. estimated his property loss at approximately 2.5 million birr (approx. U.S. $357,142.00); H.G. estimated his losses at approximately 250,000 birr (approx. U.S. $31, 250.00). The Committee of Eritrean Businessmen Displaced from Ethiopia, a group of approximately 1,500 of the expelled, estimated that by the end of October 1998 their combined losses had reached some eight hundred million dollars. Among the examples of property losses reported to Human Rights Watch, G.B. reported that government officials had seized the keys and business license to two music stores he owned and B.T. reported that the Ethiopian government auctioned his house and confiscated the trucks, cars, and office equipment of his shipping business. Human Rights Watch interview with G.B. Asmara, May 15, 1999; Human Rights Watch interview with B.T., Asmara, May 1999. For additional details, see: "Eritrean businesses [in Ethiopia]: casualties of a border conflict," Associated Press, Asmara, October 26, 1998, in Eritrean Profile, October 31,1998. See also: "Eritrea calls for protection of property of expellees," Africa News Online, PANA, Dakar, December 2, 1999.

62 G.B., a businessman, told Human Rights Watch that he was able to sell his restaurant to a friend who purchased it at market price to assist him. He gave power of attorney over two of his three houses to two other friends. However, a year later, the tenant in his third house had not paid any rent and the keys and business license to two of his music shops had been seized by the police, Human Rights Watch interview, Asmara, May 15, 1999.

63 For example, A.B., a lawyer, reported to Human Rights Watch that after his expulsion, his wife and children were only able to sell the family car for a price well below its market value, Human Rights Watch interviews, Asmara, May 1999.

64 In an interview with Human Rights Watch in Asmara on May 14, 1999. E.T., who had been expelled from Ethiopia in October 1998, stated: "I tried to sell my car. I went to the ministry of transport to transfer the ownership to an interested buyer, a routine procedure. There I was told to renew my Ethiopian identity card at the Kebele (the local council). But Kebeles by then had received instructions not to renew any papers for Eritreans. I consider the car a total loss because I couldn't arrange its sale or transfer by the time of my forced departure."

65 Human Rights Watch interview with B.A., Asmara, May 1999.

66 Hundreds of men who were arrested in Addis Ababa in early June, 1998 were reportedly held for periods of as long as several months. First transferred from local police stations to Shogole camp, the men were then moved to a former military training camp in the town of Fiche, fifty miles northwest of Addis Ababa. In mid-August 1998, after six weeks at the Fiche camp, an estimated 1,200 men were transferred to Bilate camp, an abandoned military training facility located in a highly malarial zone in southern Ethiopia. In June 1999, some of the detainees were again transferred to Dedessa military camp, in western Ethiopia. In addition to enduring harsh detention conditions, some of the detainees were reportedly punished by beatings, or otherwise were mistreated, when camp guards deemed that they were too defiant. Human Rights Watch interviews with former detainees, Asmara, May 1999.

67 For example, on June 13, 1998, a group of forty-five individuals of Eritrean origin who had been arrested and detained in Debre Zeit were transported by truck to the Shogole military camp where approximately 800 people were being held prior to their expulsion. Human Rights Watch interviews with former detainees, Asmara, May 1999.

68 See Individual Stories, Part V.

69 Human Rights Watch interviews, Asmara, May 1999.

70 One of the expelled described it as "a stable-like hall, filthy and unhygienic. We had to clean human and animal feces to make it at least fit for healthy animals." Human Rights Watch interview, Asmara, May 10, 1999.

71 According to testimonies, for example, the health clinic at the Bilate camp chronically lacked medicines and other supplies. On October 7, 1998, Gebrekidane Zakarias, one of the detained exchange students, died of an intestinal disease. According to former internees, the camp's food made him sick. As his condition steadily deteriorated, his colleagues petitioned the camp authorities to refer him to an outside hospital for treatment. They reported that the transfer was only made when he was near death. According to Eritrean authorities, five other civilian internees and one prisoner of war died of intestinal and other diseases within eight weeks of Kidane's death, Human Rights Watch interview, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Asmara, May 1999.

72 Detainees who were transferred to Bilate camp in August 1998 said the food situation at the camp was much worse than that at the Fiche camp. Guards simply gave them flour and told them to bake their own bread. With no cooking utensils available, internees were forced to bake bread on rusty corrugated metal sheets they found. Because of the lack of safe food, gastrointestinal diseases were rampant at the camp.

73 Several were eyewitnesses to the beating and torture of a young man named Dogol, a carpenter who lived with his mother in Addis Ababa. Dogol was reportedly arrested because of his participation in the Eritrean national service, which consists of six months of military training and twelve months of community development services. According to eyewitnesses at the camp, Dogol was attacked in retaliation for his attempt to stop several camp guards from harassing a woman being detained at the camp. The camp guards beat Dogol and he was partially paralyzed, witnesses said. Dogol was finally released on June 20, 1998. His elderly mother was expelled in August 1998 without him. Neighbors cared for him until his expulsion in mid-December 1998. Human Rights Watch interviews with several former internees in Shogole and Fiche camps, Asmara, May 16, 1999.

74 For example, students who had been interned at Fiche camp said that the guards had reacted violently on several occasions when the students complained about harsh conditions on behalf of other detainees. In one incident, on or around July 14, 1998, students were subjected to a collective beating by six guards wielding military belts and sticks in the presence of their commander. Human Rights Watch interviews with several former internees in Shogole and Fiche camps, Asmara, May 16, 1999.

75 In one case reported to Human Rights Watch, public protests interrupted the Ethiopian government's effort to load five buses with detained individuals of Eritrean origin. According to U.C., one of the detained individuals who was later expelled, the Ethiopian government was preparing to transport the detainees from the town of Desse in broad daylight: "Men, women, young and old, blocked the buses to prevent them from leaving. `What did they do? Why are you taking them?' they asked the police escort. `They will not leave,' the crowd was shouting. Police dispersed the gathering by force. During the commotion, a young woman was struggling to accompany those being expelled, refusing to let her elderly mother, who was already in the bus, to leave alone. Police beat her, pushed her into a drainage canal, but she wouldn't let go. Finally she was allowed to leave with us. It was a sad scene to see our neighbors, and friends we have known all our lives crying for us."
Human Rights Watch interview, Asmara, May 10, 1999.

76 Often these buses carried people of Eritrean origin from towns in the northern Wollow and Gondar regions.

77 One of the first mass expulsions took place on Sunday, June 14, 1998, when a convoy of buses carried the approximately 800 people of Eritrean origin being detained at the Shogole camp to the Humera border crossing.

78 Some individuals of Eritrean origin who fled to Kenya hoped that they would be able to return to Ethiopia once the initial crisis had subsided. Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean residents in Nairobi, May 1999. Other individuals of Eritrean origin sought asylum, usually in Kenya or Djibouti. However, because the receiving countries and the UNHCR regional authorities who processed their applications frequently refused to extend asylum protection to individuals of Eritrean origin fleeing Ethiopia, many such individuals were forced to return to Ethiopia and face forcible expulsion by the government or remain in the receiving country without legal status. Human Rights Watch interviews in Nairobi, May 1999.

79 A former detained student told Human Rights Watch that on August 24, 1998 the ICRC arranged his departure and that of two other exchange students. Their studies in Ethiopia had been interrupted by their detention by Ethiopian police after the start of the war. The ICRC intervened, the student said, after the Ethiopian police handed over the students to the Eritrean embassy. On February 14, 1999, Ethiopian authorities transferred another thirty-eight Eritrean exchange students, who had been arrested and interned in the Bilate camp after the start of the war, to the custody of the ICRC for their removal from Ethiopia. On the same day, the students were transported under heavy guard to Addis Ababa airport, from where an ICRC-chartered plane took them, via Djibouti, to Asmara, according to one member of the group. A small number of others being expelled traveled with them, including "an old woman in a wheel chair." Human Rights Watch interviews with former interned students (E.G. and A.T.), Asmara, May 13, 1999. See also statement issued by the office of the government's spokesperson, "Ethiopia releases Eritreans on humanitarian grounds," February 15, 1999.

80 Expellees who belonged to the Eritrean Community in Ethiopia (COM) told Human Rights Watch that COM was primarily a voluntary, self-help organization for people of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia. Like similar organizations founded by the Amhara, the Tigreans, the Somalis, the Oromos, and other ethnic and cultural groups in Ethiopia, they describe the COM as a forum for celebrating Eritrean culture and heritage and encouraging the expression of a common ethnic identity. Another key mission of the organization described by expellees was providing assistance to the poorest members of the Eritrean community in Ethiopia. The organization also helped to raise awareness about, and mobilize support for, development efforts in Eritrea. Prior to the outbreak of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Ethiopian government had granted legal recognition to COM. Several of its former leaders have noted that the Ethiopian also provided assistance to the organization, and they asserted that COM could not have undertaken any of its activities without the prior approval of the Ethiopian government. In response to the Ethiopian government's allegations that it was justified in expelling COM members because the organization mobilized war support for Eritrea among Ethiopians of Eritrean origin, former COM leaders argue that the organization could not have possibly mobilized the support of the community for Eritrea's war effort since the war took everyone-including the elite in both countries-by surprise. Human Rights Watch interviews, Asmara, May 1999.

81 Human Rights Watch interview, Asmara, May 10, 1999.

82 Ibid.

83 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, Kenya, May 1999.

84 For example, the Eritrean government reported on July 3, 2000 that 603 people of Eritrean parentage expelled from Tigray had arrived in Molki and said they had been dispossessed of their property and 5,000 head of livestock. "Ethiopia-Eritrea: Mutual accusations of expulsions continue," IRIN Horn of Africa Update, July 3, 2000.

85 About mid 1999, a year after the arrival of the first wave of expulsions, the Eritrean government replaced the use of its general refugee registration form with a form specifically geared to the expellees from Ethiopia. The form asked for a wide range of information including basic biographic data, details of the individual's expulsion, the individual's profession and work history, the individual's personal ties to Eritrea, the individual's family members still in Ethiopia, a description and valuation of the individual's assets left in Ethiopia, and a photograph of the expellee and any of his or her accompanying dependents. The ERREC assisted the expellees in filling out the form, and both the expellee and the ERREC assistant were required to sign and date the completed form.

86 For the first year of the war, the ERREC issued the expellees an identification card known as a "green card" or "Repatriated Refugees Card." The card identified the expellee's name, age, gender, level of education, native language, occupation, and dependents, as well as the date and location of the individual's arrival. The card did not identify the citizenship of the holder. ERREC's clerks were instructed to note, under the heading "remarks," that the individual or individuals named on the card had been "forcibly expelled from Ethiopia." The cards were written in both Tigrigna and Arabic, the two languages of Eritrea. In mid-1999, the ERREC began issuing expellees from Ethiopia a new identification card, labeled "Identification Card For Eritreans Expelled from Ethiopia," and also known as the "blue card." The information on the card largely corresponded to that on the green card, although the blue card used English in addition to Tigrigna and Arabic. Human Rights Watch interview with the assistant commissioner for research and human resources, ERREC, Asmara, May 10, 1999.

87 The Eritrean government provided expellees with a one time housing stipend of 1,500 Nakfa (about USD $200), several weeks of food assistance, and an assortment of household items. Expellees from rural areas were also given farming tools. Where possible, the ERREC also offered expellees assistance in securing housing and employment, and arranging for the education of their children. The Eritrean government exempted registered expellees from payment of custom duties on imported goods and tools. Finally, the expellees identification cards were also meant to facilitate applying employment, housing, land lease from the government, and bank loans. Card bearers were to receive preferential treatment in access to these services and facilities.

88 "Kenya: Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia arrive in Moyale," Kenyan News Agency, September 15, 1998.

89 Human Rights Watch interviews with UNHCR senior protection officer in Kenya, Nairobi, May 1999.

90 Statement by UNHCR spokesperson, "UNHCR protests expulsion of Eritreans," Geneva, August 27, 1999.

91 The Malawian government rejected appeals from both the Eritrean government and UNHCR to be allowed to intervene, telling UNHCR that it was treating the incident "strictly as an immigration issue" on account the expellees alleged-use of fake visas. See "Malawi: UNHCR protests to Malawi over expulsions," IRIN - Southern Africa, Johannesburg, August 27, 1999. However, the Malawian Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Relations Ziddy Medi reportedly commented that had his government been seen to have assisted the expellees in traveling to Eritrea, it could have sparked a diplomatic row with Ethiopia. "Expelled Eritrean soldiers," Blantyre (Malawi), PANA, August 23, 1999.


93 The UNHCR formally registered a strong protest with the government of Malawi over the killing of the asylum seeker and the expulsion of twenty-four others to Ethiopia. In a Note Verbale to the Malawian government, UNHCR emphasized the government's obligation under the Refugee Convention to review asylum requests on their merits regardless of how an asylum seeker enters a country as well as to take into consideration the hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea when undertaking its asylum review. "UNHCR protests expulsion of Eritreans," and "Malawi: UNHCR protests to Malawi over expulsions," IRIN. UNHCR's protest in this case, which came fourteen months after the start of the Ethiopian expulsion campaign against people of Eritrean origin, was one of the first times the agency spoke out publicly on an issue related to the Ethiopian expulsion campaign.

94 "ICRC concerned over Ethiopia's forced deportation of Eritreans," Agence France Presse, July 13, 2001.

95 U.N. Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea," S/2001/843, September 5, 2001.

96 Ibid.

97 U.N. Security Council, "Progress Report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea," S/2001/1194, December 13, 2001.

98 ICRC, "Ethiopia-Eritrea: Close to 250 People Repatriated," ICRC News 02/12, at <Http://>, (retrieved March 21, 2002).

99 See U.N. Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea," S/2001/843, September 5, 2001, and subsequent quarterly reports in December 2001 and March 2002.

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