Ethiopia-Eritrea border opens for first time in 20 years

20 November 2018

In September 2018, two border crossing points were reopened for the first time in almost 20 years. As a result, thousands of Eritreans are now crossing the border to Ethiopia.
The Adi Harush camp is not equipped to handle the new number of refugees, and there is enormous pressure on the provision of shelter, water, latrines, food rations, and non-food items. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Adi Harush – Before Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a joint declaration of peace and amity on 9th July 2018, the Adi Harush refugee camp hosted 9,000 Eritrean refugees. Many people have fled from Eritrea due to compulsory military service with no end date, and a systemic disregard for social and economic rights. Those fleeing Eritrea often seek refuge in neighbouring Ethiopia because the cultures and traditions of the two countries have many similarities.

On 11th September 2018, two border crossing points were reopened for the first time in almost 20 years. There was hope that this was an early indicator of coming change in Eritrea, but mandatory military service is still enforced and there still is little recognition of basic human rights. As a result, Eritreans are now leaving the country by the thousands. Upon arrival in Ethiopia, many Eritreans realise the extent to which their lives have been controlled by extremely restrictive regulations. In Eritrea there is limited access to goods and fuel. Businesses are also required to give 40 per cent of their profits to the government, and, in an effort to restrict communication, sim cards for mobile phones are almost impossible to purchase. As more refugees realise the opportunities that are available in Ethiopia, the daily rate of arrivals has increased at almost seven times the previous rate.

Historically most refugees from Eritrea have been young men, but women and children now constitute 90 per cent of the new arrivals. Prior to the peace agreement, compulsory military service drove men to pay as much as 80,000 Birr (2,500 EUR) to flee Eritrea. Registration data from the Ethiopian government cites family reunification as the motive for movement by 83 per cent of the newly arrived. Adi Harush has seen an influx of an additional 7,000 refugees in less than 3 weeks, with hundreds more arriving every day. The camp is not equipped to handle the new number of refugees, and there is enormous pressure on the provision of shelter, water, latrines, food rations, and non-food items. This is causing tension for all residing in the camp, and has led to unsanitary conditions.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) runs a centre in Adi Harush that has a large multipurpose facility, reserved for sports and activities for the youth in the camp. The opening of the border has created many changes within the camp, and JRS temporarily hosted 1,200 refugees in the facility while shelters were being built for the new arrivals. Despite the disruptions, JRS is providing its regular programmes, including music, sports, art, drama, and counselling. Some of the youth who attend the drama classes have created a theatrical play to present for the new refugees in the compound. The play highlights the positive and negative behaviours of both the host and refugee communities, and promotes living together peacefully. In the face of increased pressure on all sides, local initiatives such as this are a hopeful and encouraging sign.

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