By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
For the past 41 years, Ethiopia has been known a refugee producing country. Of late, it has also become a major refugee hosting nation, change of status the regime has exploited as source of finance and political support. There is nothing new in this, since it is always developing countries that bear the burden of both producing and protecting refugees.
On August 19, 2015, the UNHCR praised Ethiopia for overtaking Kenya for hosting almost 630,000 refugees at the end of July, compared to Kenya’s 575,000, giving Addis Abeba newest accolade to present donors with a kitty for funds.
While the Ethiopian refugee numbers are made under the strong presumption that Ethiopia hardly is top refugee producing country and the offer of protection under stringent conditions, the need for this UNHCR assumption has imbued the agency’s approach with horror of totally ignoring the country’s reality as repressive and oppressive nation.
The idea possibly is to protect the image and ethnic politics of Western darling Ethiopia – their sheriff against terrorism in East Africa, also seen a nation full promises to reward investors in future and a potential huge market for their goods and services.
To hell with the UNHCR some Ethiopians must have said, when they decided to flee the TPLF southwards from Ethiopia to Eastern and Southern Africa, instead of heading to Europe and North America. The ideal target destination of these young and embittered refugees has been South Africa, where some of them were torched last spring, as if they were sticks for bonfire.
The rest of their story is commonplace, with a high number of them having ended up prisoners in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, etc. And yet nothing seems to deter Ethiopians. They still keep on flocking, saying the torment outside is better than the ethnic and political repression at home. I think I likened it to the Alawites and others, after I heard US Ambassador Robert Ford in Syria, who resigned disagreeing with his government’s policy.
There are also those Ethiopians that to this day keep on fleeing to Yemen, even as that country has for a while now being subjected to Saudi and its coalition’s bombardment. Even without the bombing, no matter the conditions for a person’s flight, the UNHCR ground rule in Yemen has been that Ethiopians do not receive its protection. Yet, without the UNHCR Yemen has been hospitable for hundreds of Ethiopians.
As to the numbers of Ethiopian refugees globally on UNHCR’s books as at December 2014, it is reported that 149,129 Ethiopians had fled their country. The agency has clearly designated them “population of concern”. This euphemism is lumps together those recognized as refugees and those seeking asylum.
Notwithstanding that, of this number it is only 86,861 individuals the UN agency has recognized as refugees.
The UNHCR figures of Ethiopian refugees must be taken with the pinch of its politics. An interesting refugee protection case is that of those coming to it and failing to be protected in Kenya. In its planning figure for January to December 2015, UNHCR took into its protection 21,300 persons.
The reality was also the very number. Ethiopians that received UNHCR’s protection in January 2015 were only 8, 840. This number went down to 8, 400 by December 2015. We know that there are still a high number of kidnapped Ethiopian refugees in TPLF’s torture chambers in Ethiopia, without the UNHCR’s word of protest.
Our hearts pain, when we remember those that had died during torture.
The United Nations has been fully aware that Ethiopian security forces have been entering deep into Kenya and kidnapping UNHCR-assisted and -protected refugees in that country. Neither the United Nations nor the UNHCR have ever raised a red flag, when international humanitarian law is criminally violated by the TPLF in Ethiopia in those many instances.
Most of all, the UNHCR must be criticized, if need be condemned, for its role in being part of the local East African politics. Ask the simple question, if UNHCR ever criticized the violation of international humanitarian law by the TPLF in Ethiopia, when it entered Kenya and Sudan at will and kidnapped bona fide refugees under UNHCR protection. The answer is no!
In the law books of the UNHCR, the term ‘non-refoulement’ is defined as a principle of international law which forbids the rendering of a true victim of persecution to his or her persecutor. It appears that Kenyan parliamentarians that objected the ghost actions of Ethiopian security apparatus that constantly undermine Kenya’s sovereignty, without the UNHCR standing up for its mandate.
Equally and vitally important for the United Nations lead agency on refugee issues ought to be keeping itself above the fray of local and international politics.
Now UNHCR’s motive may find new questioning with Ethiopians abroad organizing campaigns in front of Kenyan embassies, the first of which took place on November 2, 2015 in Washington D.C.
[click to magnify] Ethiopians are in second tier of Black Africa’s refugees/immigrants in the US
Just fresh from the press, the Pew Research Center in the United States has come with fresh numbers that cast light on the number of Ethiopian immigrants in that country. Pew attributes the recent rise, 41 percent rise in the African immigrant population especially in the past five years to conflicts.
This latest situation has come against the backdrop of the Refugee Act of 1980, “which made it easier for those fleeing conflict-ridden areas, such as Somalia and Ethiopia, to resettle in the U.S.” The research center explains:
“Back then, less than 1% of all refugee arrivals were from Africa, compared with 32% today, according to figures from the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. Statistics from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics confirm this point. Among refugee arrivals in 2013, five of the top 10 countries of nationality were in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.”
While immigration from Africa rose to 1.8 million in 2013, with Nigeria leading the pack, Ethiopia has maintained second place for a long time.
This sheds some light on the reality, where the UNHCR seems to have put the lid on.
Read the full article from Pew Center.
*Updated with new material