Survival rights of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia: The Shimelba refugee camp case

Kbrom AlemaAuthor: Kbrom Alema Germay
Candidate Judge at the Aga’ezi Justice Organs Professional Training Center and Legal Research Institute

Currently, Ethiopia is among the developing countries that are hosting thousands of refugees from Eritrea, Kenya, Somali and Sudan, and that mandates refugee to reside in camps. Some of the refugees in Ethiopia live in the northern parts of the country in a camp called the Shimelba refugee camp. Refugees in this particular camp lived in Eritrea and fled to avoid military service, religious persecution and ethnic discrimination. This camp is situated is in a place widely recognised for its diverse settings and agro-ecosystems, displaying a wide array of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. To this end, the lands are fragile and vulnerable to both natural and human generated calamities, ranging from the shortage of or unpredictable rainfall to species and resource base depletion and degradation rendered more acute by the effects of drought. The location of the camp site is isolated. The environmental conditions are difficult, with temperature ranging up to 42 degree Celsius. The Ethiopian government in collaboration with the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), oversight and manages Shimelba.

Ethiopia is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol. Regionally, Ethiopia is also a party to the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). Besides these refugee-specific instruments, Ethiopia is also a party to most of international and regional human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International Convention on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, therefore reinforcing the protection for refugees.

Despite these facts, Eritrean refugees face serious human right challenges within and out of the refugee camp, specifically: the food, health service, housing, education provided to them and their right to free movement. All occupants, regardless of their condition (pregnant, old people, adolescents, school age children and infants), are given 15 kilos of wheat, 90 grams of cooking oil, a small cup of salt and a glass of sugar monthly. Eritrean refugees complain over the quantity and quality of the food allotted to them. They asserted that with these supplies, the can only afford a meal twice a day to finish the month, but the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs – Government of Ethiopia – claims the supply is an international standard set up by the UNHCR. It is also a norm at Shimelba for women to queue for long hours to fetch water from the water source at the camp with 18 500 refugees and water shortage is common, leaving occupants without anything to prepare their foods.

Eritrean refugees face serious human right challenges within and out of the refugee camp

Conclusion and Recommendations

As has been demonstrated, the treatment given to Eritrean refugees by the Ethiopian government is questionable and restricts some of their basic rights, leading to the failure to realise other basic survival rights (the right to adequate food and adequate housing). The recommendations made below are based on the interpretative statement of the ICESCR General Comments No. 4 and 12 and are intended for possible constructive steps required to be taken by the Ethiopian government. Thus, as a minimum core obligation, the Ethiopian government must consider the following recommendations to better realise the survival of Eritrean refugees.

Regarding the right to adequate food, the Ethiopian government could:

  • addressing all aspect of dietary and nutritional needs of the refugee and specific focus should be ensuring that children are provided nutritionally balanced food to enable the fulfillment of all the rights of the child. This could be realized through a discussion with the World Food Program on the possibility of increasing the food rations and nutrimental needs of children;
  • improve and create culturally sensitive foods to persons belonging to the Kunama ethnic group and other vulnerable groups; and
  • encourage and introduce new local grocery stores and food pantries within the camp that refugees can afford.

Regarding the right to adequate housing, the Ethiopian government could:

  • provide better means of housing, such as cottages made up of wood and mud; and
  • relocating the settlement in Shimelba to a different location where refugees would get better social facilities.

About the Author:
Kibrom Alema Germay graduated from the Haramaya University’s College of Law (2012). Currently he is a candidate Judge in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. He has participated in the African Human Right Moot Court Competition (2011), South Africa and the Frankfurt International Investment Arbitration Moot Court Competition (2012), Germany.

4 Comments on “Survival rights of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia: The Shimelba refugee camp case”

  1. Meron Debebe says:

    I really admire your courage to follow up this issue and try to give us info for as.Please continue what you are currently doing.But I want you to clear some thing for me regarding issues in which the problem that happens on the Refugee people is totally make Ethiopia Un responsible for what she has signed and committed to perform which is against all the treaty that Ethiopia already accept internationally.So my Question is who will be Responsible for this mess and For the violation of there right ?Because as far as my perception at least they know that they are not doing right.

    Meron Debebe

  2. justice says:

    He is right Kibrom I really appreciate you so much. This problem is faced in all the camps which are found in Ethiopia. The major problem is not food but the hopes which the refugee expect in the camp like resettlement opportunity which is almost dominated by Somali refugees. So the government of Ethiopia is better to consider the case for the Eritrean Refugees found in different camps.

  3. hermon says:

    am Eritrean refuge refuge life is bad but God help us !!!

  4. Arone kidane says:

    Am half Ethiopian and Eritrean i don’t have any ideas for what reson we fight each other and i know how bad is refugee life also after that my life is in danger am becoming homeless.after i left Ethiopia separate from my be loved familys and friends and am liveing abroad from one to another countrys rely thats worrest i dont have future dream life just lost everything.

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