Deportation - We haven’t forgotten
By: Berhan Araya
March 11, 2004

Eritrea and Ethiopia have been fighting in different wars even as far as three centuries ago. But any government that assumed power other than the Woyane in Ethiopia has never ever tried to expel Eritreans. The first and hopefully the last will be the TPLF regime. The peoples of these two countries have lived together ever since the recorded history. The regime currently running a government in Ethiopia is really characterized by racism and an expansionist ideology. It was made clear in several occasions that the Ethiopian population is becoming a target of this chauvinistic regime which is made up of a single ethnic group.

The deportation of Eritreans from Ethiopia, in 1998 and 1999 was a lawless and belligerent act. In most cases, innocent citizens were detained by police or other security officials for period ranging from a day, week, or even month. Hauled to buses headed to the Eritrea-Ethiopia border where they were abandoned and forced to cross under very strenuous conditions. Deportees had no outlet to voice their grievances and no platform to demand protection of their property or liberty. Although, the decision to expel Eritreans was made by a few senior Ethiopian officials, the bulk of organization and execution was orchestrated by many junior officials.

Let’s look at the recklessness in which the TPLF regime has waged this incredulous illegal expulsion.

The Government of Ethiopia has deported over 80-thousand Ethiopians of Eritrean origin. It deported over 45,000 people to Eritrea during 1998 and over 22,000 in 1999 and is still deporting Eritreans every now and then as it pleases.

The deportation of Eritreans from Ethiopia is one of the most cruel and inhuman acts in recent history. We must look back to Adolf Hitler’s ethnic cleansing of Jews during the Second World War to find any comparison.

The world has witnessed the hospitalization and death of several Eritreans due to this brutal act of terrorism through expulsion. Deportees report being kidnapped from their homes in several different Ethiopian cities by government officials. Ethiopian authorities practically “dumped” many of the deportees at the border without adequate food and water. Some required immediate hospitalization because of heat and stress suffered during their deportation. Many of the deportees complained of a harsh eight-day travel which has caused the separation of families and illegal confiscation of property. Most of the deportees were long term residents of Ethiopia and even worked as civil servants.

Most of them had lived virtually their entire lives in Ethiopia and considered themselves to be Ethiopian citizens of Eritrean heritage. Much in the way Black Americans consider themselves African American.

At the time most people believed that the act of expelling Eritreans was an act of madness never to be expected from an ordinary human being, let alone a government running a sovereign country. Ethiopian diplomats later revealed that flooding Eritrea with deportees was a calculated act to put pressure on the Eritrean economy in the futile hope it would crumble. Ethiopia used Eritrean civilians much the way a pawn is used in a chess match.

Ethiopian authorities were claiming that the deportees were Eritrean citizens whose presence in Ethiopia posed a ‘security risk’. On the other hand, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, in an interview with Ethiopian television, refused to coherently justify his acts by stating that the Government of Ethiopia has the right to expel as much people as it pleases simply on the basis of eye color, whether they are Japanese or Eritrean or any other.

But, sarcastically, the Ethiopian government currently issued a statement saying it will accept Eritreans residing in the Diaspora to come to live and invest their money in Ethiopia with the promise of accommodating them with anything they need.

The same government in Ethiopia has confiscated property worth over 1-billion dollars from the Eritreans it deported; it practically stole money from their houses, bank accounts and took their assets just like an ordinary thief.

The same government in Ethiopia around four years ago was deporting Eritreans who were permanently residing in Ethiopia, Eritrean guests who came to visit their families in Ethiopia at the moment, and has imprisoned many more Eritreans simply because they are Eritreans and nothing more.

The most common situation concerning an Ethiopian spouse (with no connection to Eritrea beyond marriage to a person of Eritrean origin or heritage) was separation from their life partner even if she felt compelled to follow, 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.

An Amnesty International report of May 21, 1999, clearly indicated that the most common reaction of Ethiopian officials when faced with a marriage between Ethiopian and Eritrean was for the Eritrean spouse to be expelled and the Ethiopian spouse forced to remain. The report further showed
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.”

It is clear that many children were expelled from Ethiopia with only one parent and there are even some cases of children being expelled alone.

The situation in respect to children of expelled Eritreans is more complex and the criteria apparently more arbitrary as regards whether children would stay in Ethiopia or be expelled with a parent. According to one study by a foreign intellectual about the expulsions, “the Ethiopian police have exercised complete random discretion to decide which family members stay and which to be deported”.

There are also numerous reports of children being left behind in Ethiopia; when their parents were expelled, in many cases without any relative to look after them. The fate of children in the expulsion process appears to have depended heavily on momentary impulsive and seemingly arbitrary decisions by local Ethiopian officials in charge of the expulsions.

A United Nations Development Program study of 22nd July 1998 showed that among married people expelled from Ethiopia, of whom about two-thirds were men, “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”. For instance, among a group of 1,987 expelled Eritreans, 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”.

The Government and people of Eritrea haven’t forgotten this act of violence. It will be impossible to forget the way Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin were treated when they were deported from Ethiopia. The humiliation, sickness, and deaths which were caused by the harsh treatment of the ones we called our neighbors will be etched in their mind for a long time.

Although the human mind is made to block out tragic events, the sobering reality of deportation is one that our mind on the other hand cannot forget so readily. There are several who grew up with ambitions of success, and invested in business, earned a living, or became educated but are currently serving their nation diligently after leaving behind their entire belongings and investments. It has been five years since deportation started still, it seems like yesterday innocent Eritrean were arrested and deported like common criminals.

Coming to the rural areas, reports looked like this during the first half of the deportation process:

Eritrean authorities resettled about 39,000 new arrivals in urban areas with the expectation that they would rapidly become economically self-reliant. Some 28,000 deportees with agricultural backgrounds settled in the rural areas: about 15,000 moved into temporary rural camps with other displaced Eritreans, while 13,000 immediately integrated with small rural communities.

One example is the situation in the north-western part of Gash-Barka region. “8,700 Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia in 1998, and have been homeless ever since have been given farmland by the Eritrean Government. The 2,870 families, who have each been given one hectare of land, have been relocated in trucks from Shelab camp - shared by internally displaced people and expellees. For example, the case in the north-western area of Gash Barka to three other localities looked likes this:

Gerenfit East, Gerenfit West and Wedi Emmi Gerenfit were chosen for their suitability for farming, in an attempt to end the families' dependency on relief aid. They were being given seeds and farming implements by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), although experts say cultivation was not possible due to recurrent drought”. Nevertheless, Mr. Simon Nhongo, UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Eritrea, described the move as “a major breakthrough” for the families, after over four years of waiting. “The difference between them and the other camp occupants was that they had no original place to return to,” he elaborated.

Deportees from Ethiopian cities were given different types of settlement options. Most of these deportees received a cash grants equivalent to 200 US dollars, six months of food aid, Eritrean identity documents, kitchen utensils, and blankets from the Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission (ERREC). They were given the choice to settle in either Asmara or Dekemhare. Deportees were temporarily housed in schools that were unoccupied due to summer vacation and the University of Asmara’s dormitory as well.
The Government of Eritrea first had to provide basic human necessities, such as, water and sanitation facilities as well as schools. However, funding must be provided before these important facilities could be constructed. Time was crucial. If the facilities were not in place on time, the expellees would have to remain where they were for another year.

Adding insult to injury, the Government of Eritrea still was compelled to fight to defend its sovereign land against Ethiopian aggression. Several offensives though unsuccessful were being launched by the TPLF regime in an effort to oust the Eritrean government.

The international community was doing nothing at the moment to defend the rule of law and to force the government in Ethiopia to accept the terms and conditions of the peace process. Likewise, history is repeating itself not long after we had overcome this destructive and unnecessary war. The international community yet again is unable to defend the law they themselves passed and take measures against the aggressors and the regime that rejected the EEBC ruling. It is becoming like the rule of law does not apply to Ethiopia though it is still a member of the UN, AU and a number of other international organizations. The world community at large and the guarantors of the peace process should work towards the success of the peace process they drafted and bring peace to this region.

More than 90 percent of the deportees had owned something in Ethiopia prior to their expulsion and everything was confiscated by the Ethiopian government. A few were even millionaires who lost almost everything they earned to the illegal confiscation of their property by the TPLF regime. And now are starting a new by making a living here in Eritrean through various means. The Eritrean Investment and Development Bank (EDIB) is one of the institutions that have been trying to help several cases related to deportees.

Where are they today?

Some dead, some sick and some permanently hurt, but most will be living with the fact that wherever they go and whatever fields they choose, most will be successful in their own right. And their motherland will always be here for them as long as they need her.

Eritrea and its people on the other hand, after successfully overcoming the Ethiopian offenses and winning the legal battle over the sovereignty of Badme is now working tirelessly on a new economic renaissance, the Warsay-Yikaalo Development Campaign, besides registering victory in several development projects across the country.