A report by the Voice of America (VOA) English service has revealed that Ethiopia has stopped granting automatic asylum to Eritreans entering the country. The report also pointed out that there is a policy shift from the Ethiopian side regarding Eritrean refugees.
The Reporter's effort to verify this information from the Ethiopian government's side was unsuccessful.
However, according to the VOA, the United Nations and aid groups say the previously unannounced policy change, which went into place about three months ago, put Eritreans trying to flee the country at the mercy of unscrupulous human smugglers.
For years, Ethiopia had an "open-door" policy towards refugees from countries such as South Sudan and Eritrea, earning it widespread acclaim among international donors.
But according to the United Nations and humanitarian aid groups, Ethiopia changed its policy in late January without making an official announcement. The government no longer offers automatic asylum for Eritreans trying to flee their home country.
Activists and aid groups say the new policy limits options for Eritreans trying to avoid forced conscription into Eritrea's national service program.
Weeks before this report, reports regarding the closure of one of the camps that hosted Eritrean refugees circulated across many social and mainstream media outlets. Though there were no clear justification and explanation both from the Ethiopian and Eritrean government, the refugees residing in Hitsats refugee camp were complaining that they have been informed they will be relocated to another camp.
A report that Ethiopia is stepping up preparations to go ahead with a planned closure of a camp for Eritrean refugees, was also a major talking point among Eritrean activists. Some went further and argued that Eritrean president is behind such a poly.
Home to some 26,000 people, including some 1,600 minors, Hitsats is one of four camps in the northern Tigray region hosting nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).