Date: Friday, 11 December 2020
ADDIS ABABA/GENEVA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s government said on Friday it was returning Eritrean refugees to camps in the northern Tigray region, a move that prompted concerns from the United Nations refugee agency, which does not have access to the camps.
The refugees are being taken from the capital Addis Ababa back to two camps they had fled from during a month of fighting between the military and a rebellious regional force because it is now safe and stable in Tigray, the government said in a statement.
“A large number of misinformed refugees are moving out in an irregular manner,” the statement said. “The government is safely returning those refugees to their respective camps.”
United Nations officials have expressed concern about reports of continued clashes in the region.
“We have not been informed by the government or any other authorities or other partners about a planned relocation,” Babar Baloch, spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, said at a news conference in Geneva. He called the reports “alarming.”
He added, “While we cannot speculate at this time, any refoulement would be absolutely unacceptable.”
Refoulement is a technical term that refers to forcing refugees to return to the country they fled from.
There are 96,000 Eritrean refugees registered in Ethiopia. Most live in Tigray, which borders Eritrea.
(This story corrects to clarify that “absolutely unacceptable” quote referred to sending refugees back to Eritrea)
*Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom and Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Alexandra Zavis; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Maggie Fick, William Maclean