Ethiopia: HRW Urges Safe Evacuation for Ethiopian, Eritrean Refugees Amid Sudan War

Fleeing an attack by armed men in El Geneina, capital of Sudan's West Darfur State, that killed her husband, 22-year-old Zeinab and her two children found refuge in a displaced persons camp in neighboring Chad (file photo)

Addis Abeba — Human Rights Watch is urging international organizations to provide safe evacuation options for Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan, as the war nears refugee-hosting areas.

The organization reports that approximately 40,000 Ethiopian refugees are currently hosted in Gedaref state, while Eritrean refugees continue to arrive in Kassala state. Recent conflict in neighboring Sennar state has heightened concerns about refugee safety in the region.

"If the fighting approaches Gedaref and Kassala, we will not be safe," an Ethiopian refugee told HRW researchers, highlighting the growing anxiety among the refugee population.

The report comes in the backdrop of PM Abiy Ahmed's visit to Sudan, on Tuesday, to explore ways to peacefully resolve the ongoing war in the country. According to Legesse Tullu, minister of communications, PM Abiy "held a fruitful discussion about the current situation in Sudan" with General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Chairman of Sudan's Transitional Sovereign Council.

Nothing has been said whether the two leaders discussed the issue of refugees, as Sudanese refugees who fled the war to Ethiopia are also facing hardships.

HRW notes that refugees in eastern Sudan have been voicing concerns about their security and lack of humanitarian support since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan. While some have sought to leave the camps independently, many remain.

HRW warns of potential risks to refugees, including violence or targeted attacks by warring parties. The organization cites accusations by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that "Tigrayan forces were fighting alongside Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF)" as a factor potentially increasing these risks.

On 05 May, 2024, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) released a statement claiming that the RSF had obtained credible evidence suggesting that "forces from the TPLF are fighting alongside the SAF and its allied militias connected to the terrorist former regime."

In response, the Tigray Interim Administration has issued a strong rebuttal to what it has termed a "baseless claim" by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), saying the claims are "apparently designed to shore up international support for its campaign against the SAF by internationalizing the tragic civil war."

Human Rights Watch said in its statement, many Ethiopian refugees, particularly those from the Western Tigray Zone, are reluctant to return home. HRW reports continuing to 'receive reports of forces forcefully expelling Tigrayans, with Ethiopian military complicity, to other parts of Tigray."'

The organization states that Ethiopian authorities have formed a committee to facilitate refugee returns. However, HRW emphasizes that "it is critical that United Nations agencies work with Sudanese and Ethiopian authorities to assist refugees seeking to leave with safe, dignified, voluntary, and organized pathways."

Last week, Ambassador Nebiyu Tedla, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, told Voice of America (VOA) the Ethiopian government has established a national committee and has been repatriating Ethiopian citizens since the commencement of the conflict in Sudan.

The spokesperson added that the government has been returning citizens from both within and outside camps, with approximately 40,000 people repatriated so far.

HRW recommends considering various forms of support, including "cash and transport, to ensure that refugees are moved out of harm's way." The organization stresses the importance of ensuring that no one is "coerced or forced to return to locations where they would face serious risks."

In May 2024, Addis Standard reported that more than 500 former Ethiopian peacekeepers of Tigrayan origin, who were stationed in the Abyei region bordering Sudan and South Sudan, were facing heightened security concerns amidst the escalating conflict in the country.

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