What is the underlying reason behind the deportation?

Background to the deportation of   Eritreans from Ethiopia

By Resoum Kidane


The end of the thirty-year long Eritrea-Ethiopia war in May 1991and the subsequent relationship, one of apparent friendship and co-operation, between these
 two countries up until the outbreak of the current conflict, provided the necessary pre-conditions for much needed poverty alleviation and economic development in 
two countries which, arguably, are amongst the poorest countries in the world.The re-emergence of conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 6 May 1998, and the 
escalation of that conflict into all-out warfare over what is seemingly a containable border dispute, has exacted an enormous toll in human lives lost
 (civilians as well as combatants), in displacement of civilians, and in post-conflict  reconstruction.  Since the expulsions began (in mid-June, 1998)
 tens of thousands of Eritreans have been deported, many of who were forced to leave their families and their  belongings in Ethiopia.  
Many Eritreans are also reported to be forcibly interned in makeshift transit camps awaiting deportation.

This timely paper by Resoum Kidane, an EPLF veteran, sets out the factors prompting the flow of Eritrean migrants to Ethiopia the effects of war
 and the deliberate policy of dismantling the Eritrean economy by successive Ethiopian regimes; it also explores the contribution of these migrants to the development
 of the Ethiopian economy.  Against this backcloth of historical context, the author challenges both the Ethiopian regime and the international community to address
 the issues of the injustice and, arguably, illegality of the deportations.
June Rock
University of Leeds


Following the eruption of the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in May 1998, the government of Ethiopia launched a wave of deportations of 

Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin, claiming they were a threat to national security. 70,000 of the Eritrean residents in Ethiopia have been deported.

Among these people were the elderly, disabled, young children, professionals, businessmen and women.


Historically the forbears of the present deportees arrived in the 1950's and 1960's as skilled labour migrants. The present generation therefore had

become an integral part of the Ethiopian community.


This paper looks specifically at the current deportation of Eritreans from Ethiopia.  I believe that the information presented here will assist the reader to

understand the motives behind the EPRDF (Ethiopian government) deportation policy. It also considers the historical background to the migration

of Eritreans to Ethiopia and the cause of the expulsion and the manner in which it occurred.

It will give: 


  • An overall picture for the international community, which in my opinion has little information on
    the current human rights violations‑taking


  • Background information on the long historical migrations of Eritreans to Ethiopia.


  • Brief information about the effect of the current mass expulsion on the social and economic life of the deportees.


The information presented in this paper is obtained from various sources, such as the “Uprooted,” a fact finding study by Professor Legesse,

eyewitness correspondence, a report from Amnesty International and Human Right Watch.  The historical factual information was gathered from

books written by different authors in the past three decades.


Historical Background to the Eritrean migration to Ethiopia


For centuries, different areas of the present Eritrea were ruled by different empires; notably the Ottoman Empire, Funj Kingdom, the Egyptian and the

Abyssinian Empire. It was recognised as a political entity with fixed territorial boundaries demarcated by Italy in 1890. The colonial era ended

in 1941 and the country was under British administration until 1952.


In the Second World War, when Italy was defeated, the issue of the future of Eritrea was debated among the four super‑power commissions (USA,

USSR , Britain and France). Following this, in 1949, the British Administration in Eritrea established the Bevin‑Sforza plan, which recommended the

partition of Eritrea between the Muslim lowlands in the North and the Christian highlands in the South. The North was to be under the rule of Sudan

(a former British colony) and the South under Ethiopia . However, the Eritrean political parties and the Sudanese Umma Party rejected this proposal.


Initially, the US became interested in the Eritrean issue when Haile Sellassie offered an Ethiopian battalion to fight alongside the UN forces in Korea.

This gave the US an assurance that American interest in Eritrea would be protected by Ethiopia­­16. Because of this the US did not

support Eritrean independence, and in 1950 the US decided in favour of creating a federation.  

The US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles commented:


"…The strategic interest of the US in the Red Sea basin and consideration of security and world peace make it necessary that the country

be linked with our ally Ethiopia…".13


America's decision went into effect in 1952, under UN Resolution 390(AV). This resolution guaranteed some democratic rights and autonomy,

but ignored Eritrea 's desire for independence. In 1952, a federal government was established between Ethiopia and Eritrea throughthe UN.

The Ethiopian government established Amharic as the official language of Eritrea in place of Tigringa and Arabic that had been

stipulated as official languages under the Eritrean constitution. Following this most books written in Tigringa and Arabic were burnt. 

In 1959 the Ethiopian government imposed Ethiopian law on Eritrea .


The federal government was dissolved in 1962 by the Ethiopian government in violation of UN 390(AV) Resolution. In this process,

the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Sellassie used armed force to intimidate members of parliament and illegally abolished the federation,

declaring Eritrea as another province of the Empire.  Unfortunately, there was no reaction at all from the UN and

the international communities, despite the statement of Dr. Mantienzo the chairman of the UN Commission on Eritrea in 1950


 “…The UN Resolution on Eritrea would remain an international instrument and, if violated, the General Assembly could take action on the matter….” 23


The use of armed forces continued for the purposes of suppression and the massacre of the Eritrean people between 1962 and 1991 (Kidane 1996).

This new turn in the Eritrean situation, coupled with the decline of the economy, led to the migration of Eritrean labour to

Ethiopia and a Diaspora of 750,000 Eritreans went to Sudan and the Middle East .

1. Labour Migration


Firebrace (1984) noted that, in 1939, there were over 846 registered transport companies, 642 construction works,

2, 198 trade companies and 728 light industries in Eritrea . There was clear evidence of good transportation and communication services

as well as a good standard of light industries present during the Italian colonisation. 


Most of these were located in urban areas such as Asmara, Dekemhara, Massawa and other towns, causing a migration of the rural population

toward the urban centres to work in companies and other services.  Among the rural population, many also worked on plantations or

for companies in their local areas as daily labourers.  The number of local people who were working in companies, road construction and

on plantations was much higher in Eritrea than in the rest of the colonies in Africa . According to Killion (1995) 20% of the

Eritrean population was urbanised, which was unusual for this region of Africa in the colonial era as compared to,

for instance Tanzania where only 7% of the population lived in urban areas.25


Growth of light industries and communication infrastructure continued after the defeat of the Italians in 1941. This was due to Eritrea strategic

importance in military operations in the region for both America and Britain .


This development ceased after WW II and a number of factories were closed down.  Unemployment was exacerbated further when

the British administration in Eritrea removed and sold an estimated £86 million worth of industrial plant & equipment, including port facilities.13


Further growth of Eritrea's economy was jeopardised with the closing down of 637 businesses in 1948. The number of unemployed people also

reached 14,000 (10,000 Eritreans and 4,000 Italians).20

Fig 1 shows the dismantling of Eritrean cement work in 1947.

Source:  Firebrace, James (1984)

Despite this, between 1952 and 1962 many foreigners were still encouraged to invest in Eritrea rather than in Ethiopia. The underlying reasons was that


Eritrea had a skilled lab our force and good transport infrastructure, including access to the Red Sea . However, the Federal government in the 1950s

did not favor this and the emperor imposed high taxation on foreign investors who wished to invest their own capital in Eritrea .


Furthermore the Ethiopian government cancelled agreements between foreign investors and the Eritrean government.  Among the cancelled agreements

was the proposal between Fiat and the Eritrean government to establish a Fiat factory in Dekemhara and the establishment of a hydro‑electric scheme

involving a cotton plantation and a textile factory between 1954‑55.


In 1957, the Ethiopian government banned trade unions, closed many Eritrean industries, dismantled Eritrean factories and moved them to

the capital city of Ethiopia , Addis Ababa25. As a result, the number of workers in Eritrea declined from 32,400 (27,000 Eritreans; 5,400 Italians)

to 10, 350(10,000 Eritrean; 350 Italian).


The once urbanised Eritrean population, who originally came from rural areas, could not return to the countryside, because the skills which they acquired

during the period of Italian colonial rule and British administration could not be applied in the rural areas. Consequently, most Eritrean skilled

workers started migrating to Ethiopia to seek for work, to reunite with families, to obtain opportunities for further education and to establish businesses.   


For example, between 1950 and 1960, Ethiopia received economic assistance, estimated at  $84.4 million from the US including a loan of $19.4 million,

and military assistance grants of  $63 million16. 


Additionally, the country also encouraged other investors, who wished to invest their capital in food manufacturing and plantation. 

As a result there were 223 firms in Showa compared with 165 in Eritrea (Griffin, 1992).   There was a lot of effort from the Ethiopian government

in building and surfacing roads to improve access to farming areas in the 1950 and 1960s for promotion of cash crops, enabling many Eritreans

to get jobs within the Ethiopian Highway Authority and in other road construction companies.


Most Eritrean skilled workers who arrived between 1957 and 1975 in Ethiopia succeeded in securing jobs in road construction,

transportation service and in the food and textile manufacturing industries, the reason being that they had already acquired skills

such as welding, driving, installing electricity, constructing dams and other various building and manual abilities.

2. Educational and Social factors


During the Italian colonization the level and standard of education in Eritrea was very low, but after the defeat of Italy ,

in 1942 there was change in the standard of education in Eritrea . Not withstanding the dismantling of the Eritrean economy

by the British administration, they undertook a positive educational policy, hence the number of schools constructed increased

from 28 to 97, between 1943 and 195124.


This was attributed to the Eritrean government’s primary focus on education. During the decade of federation, there was more

steady progress in student enrollment, teacher recruitment and physical plant expansion in Eritrea compared to other part of Ethiopia .

There were 3,425 and 1,450 students within 16 elementary and 10 secondary school respectively24.  On the other hand the number

of secondary schools in Ethiopia was not more than a dozen.


As a legacy of the educational system of Eritrean government in the early 1960s, Eritrea had a sizeable intelligentsia at an intermediate level. 

This growth started and reflected a similar pattern in University education sectors; Eritrean students were enrolled in overseas universities as well.


There were more than 300 Eritrean students who pursued higher education in Cairo and the American University in Beirut and 800 or so enrolled in

the institutions of higher learning in Ethiopia in the 1960s4. The increasing number of students in middle school (between 1952 and 1962) from

1166 to 5581 was one of the few examples24.


Erlich (1983), who was lecturer at the University of Addis Ababa, observed that the proportion of Eritreans at this University was higher than

of Ethiopians in the early 1970s, which might be attributed to the higher standard of education in Eritrea during the federation period.


Most of them secured better jobs in the private and public sectors. Many modern organisations employed a disproportionate number of Eritreans in jobs

such as the Ethiopian Airlines, Telecommunications, Ethiopia Electric Light Power and Authority (EELPA), Air Force, banks, hospitals, and other

public health sectors. 


It appears that the above factors mentioned could have been one of the contributing factors for the decline in the number of employees in

Eritrea to 13, 901, while increasing the total number of people employed in Ethiopia (including both Eritreans and Ethiopia) to 37,426 in the 1970s 

(Gilkes 1977).


  expansion of road construction and other similar projects in Ethiopia in the 1960s (see fig 2).






Fig. 2: The fluctuation of Eritreans migrating to Ethiopia between 1957 and 1998. Source: from the statement by the delegation of

the State of Eritrea to the UNHRC, 4th August 1998.


Erlich pointed out that one factor of the considerable socio‑economic development in Ethiopia was the growing participation of

Eritreans in Ethiopian national life, which was able to supply Ethiopia with the necessary manpower (1950‑1960s and early 1970s). 

Therefore, one would assume the building of modern Ethiopia could not have succeeded without the participation of skilled workers and other intelligentsia from Eritrea.



 Background to the deportation of   Eritreans from Ethiopia


The participation of Eritrean migrants in the field of skilled labour in business and foreign trade meant that Ethiopia thrived by becoming a more modern

and faster developing country. The active participation of Eritreans also reached its peak within the Ethiopian government and the armed forces. 

This led to General Aman Andom becoming the first Head of State after the Emperor was deposed in September 12, 1974.


However, this development ceased after General Aman Andom and other air force officials were executed on November 23, 1974.

Since then Eritreans who were in the Ethiopian army, the air force and navy became main targets of the Ethiopian military regime. 

The regime also targeted other Eritrean intellectuals and professionals holding key posts in government organizations, accusing

them of being members of the Eritrean Clandestine Political Organization. Under these circumstances, most of them left for

other countries to seek sanctuary and escape the consequence of torture and imprisonment. This resulted in the decline of Eritrean migration

to Ethiopia between 1975 and 1991 (see fig. 2). 


Despite this, there was still a large Eritrean community of 550, 000 living in Ethiopia through 1970s to 1990s. Most Eritreans and Eritrean

descendants were engaged in running their own businesses, garages, other technical works such as engineering, transportation, and international

and private companies. In connection with this, Mr. Abraha Yohannes, who is living in Asmara following his deportation, stated that 95% of garages,

90% of the transport businesses, 70‑80% of the electrical trade, 50% of wood and metal workshops and 50% of spare parts shops were owned

by Eritreans10. The Indian Ocean Newsletter further quoted a representative of the Committee of Eritrean Businessmen Displaced from Ethiopia

as saying that “The 1,500 members of the Committee used to employ about 45, 000 workers in Ethiopia, each of whom supported another five people.”  This meant that 250,000 people in Ethiopia directly benefited from Eritrean businesses. 


The Indian Oceans Newsletter also reported that the majority of large contractors in Ethiopia were Eritreans. It makes reference to the owner

of one of Ethiopia 's largest contractor, Nile Construction, who left behind $7 million worth of infrastructure construction projects in

Tigray's Regional State when he was forcefully expelled. So this situation stems from the 1960s and 1970s when there were

large number of Eritrean businessmen/women active in Ethiopia as well as in Ethiopian foreign trade and other economic relationships12.  

Most of the second and third generations of Eritrean residents in Ethiopia have enjoyed an improved quality of life, as an example:


“…Michael Mussie owned a luxurious house in an affluent suburb of Addis Ababa, went on holidays abroad on an Ethiopian passport,

mixed with top business…”14.


The establishment of good relationship between the two countries was based on mutual co‑operation and friendship. The end of the 30-year  

war had also created a good environment for the other Eritrean migrants between 1991 and 1998 (see fig 2).  However, it is not evident why

the tragedy of deportation of Eritreans happened so unexpectedly in June 1998.  Despite the government’s so-called “policy” on June 11,

which stated: “550,000 Eritreans residing in Ethiopia could continue to live and work peacefully there”18.

What is the underlying reason behind the deportation?


Initially, only the members of Eritrean political and community organisations were ordered to leave the country. 

Fig. 3: Deported on the ground of her threat to the security of Ethiopia.This handicapped woman is among the 1410 and ten 

Eritreans expelled in 1999.


However, the Ethiopian government decided to deport Eritreans who were not a threat to the national security.  The findings of Professor

Legesse indicated that 70% of the deportees were 50 years old or above, children, disabled people, and professionals and wealthy people who

were framed for political reason (fig. 3).  As a result their properties were confiscated and they were wrongfully kicked out.


“Could these incidents escape the watchful eyes of international Human Right Groups?”


Human Rights Watch noted that many of the deportees were children and elderly persons who neither voted nor conceivably posed any

credible security risks. Interview, which was conducted with a number of deportees by The Indian Ocean Newsletter, also noted,


“The police purposely targeted particular people with certain assets such as large companies, hotels and trucks (See appendix).


For instance, Calhoum described how one businessman was deported; “A well dressed businessman said he had his passport ready,

with a visa for Germany and the USA , but the police simply took it".6 



Owners of garages, hotels, shops and other unlisted establishments were forced to leave their businesses open and prone to theft and confiscation

when police arrested them.


The findings of the survey by Professor Legesse, conducted on 1,402 deportees showed that of all the houses owned by the Eritrean

deportees (27%) were confiscated immediately or right after the deportation process.  In total they had left behind a sum of 153, 080,

169.00 Birr and property and assets estimated at US $212 million (see appendix 1). The total value of goods and property like Asmara Hotel,

shops, restaurants and hotels in Addis Ababa, belonging to Eritreans, now stood empty and were estimated a total of US $800 million by the end of 1999.5


This illegal deportation, where Eritreans were victimised did not happen to Sudanese who lived in Ethiopia during the skirmish border conflict between

Sudan and Ethiopia .  Indeed the Ethiopia government confiscated Sudanese farmers’ machinery from the borders area (DPA 2000), but nothing

happened to Sudanese businessmen and other residents in Addis Ababa .


Regarding this, one aid official noted that the first targets for deportation were the wealthier Eritreans who formed a substantial part of Addis Ababa’s

business community (Pearce 1999).   This seems to be in stark contrast to the above facts when the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi denied in

an interview with radio Ethiopia :


  “…We have not even taken a single person’s property within the law…"


However, Human Right activists, other witnesses' reports, and the findings presented by professor Legesse clearly challenges assertion made

by the Prime Minster.


In fact the Ethiopian government, in order to create opportunity for the confiscation of the deportees' assets, has issued instructions preventing

any Ethiopian nationals from acting as delegates to any Eritrean national.


Because of these instructions all deportees had to abandoned their properties without making delegation. A few months later,

the Ethiopian Commercial Bank in January 1999 put the properties and factories belonging to 200 Eritrean deportees for auction and ignored to recover over $40 million worth of debt.6 


Fig.4: An Eritrean-owned hotel in Addis Ababa stands empty

(Source: Justin Pearce 1999.)


In 1999, the Ethiopian government officially announced a similar auction on Eritrean properties.  Regarding this, The State Owned CBE says:


"… 386 deported Eritreans took loans from the bank, before the war started and now owe almost $50 million…”6   


But the government gave no official account about others who were arrested at dawn and forced to abandon their property worth more

than $800,000.  A 47-year-old woman with a bandaged foot, for example, said,  " I am rich, I have businesses.

his should not happen to me."(Calhoum, 1999b)  similarly other businesswoman said, “Someone is running my business,”.14


Consequently 15,000 Eritreans who have had their business licenses revoked, employment contracts terminated and lost or sold all other means

of survival were refused to leave the country by the Ethiopian government.  Despite this fact, it was a paradox that in a last wave of deportation,

as an added twist, the Ethiopian government charged the deportees in the latest batch between 6 and 18 dollars for “transportation and baggage handling"21


and properties including the right to leave the country if they so desire.


Even in the history of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict has there never been seen such a brutal and disgusting act.  During the previous governments,

the threat on Eritreans property that resided in Ethiopia did not occur.  In fact, the former government of Col. Menghistu did not confiscat

properties belonging to Eritreans in particular and put in on auction, while there was liberation struggle in Eritrea .  Indeed Col.

Menghistu had nationalised the assets in Ethiopia when he introduced "Socialism".


The Policy of Deportation and Its Allegation


When Ethiopia launched the deportation, human right activists and the Eritrean government disapproved the allegation made against

deporting Eritrean and Ethiopian descendants of Eritrean origin on the grounds of threat national security to the Ethiopian government. 

Later the Ethiopian government started to justify the deportation of Eritreans and their descendants by saying, 

“The Ethiopian government has the right to deport under the Geneva Conventions, Eritrean national as foreigner even those who resided in

Ethiopia before Eritrea became Independent.” 


In a separate interview with Radio Ethiopia on July 9, the Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi tried to justify his government as having the

right to deport Eritreans.


"If we say leave, because we do not like the colour of your eyes they have to leave the country..."18 for the deportees were foreigners.  


EPRDF (Ethiopian governments leaders) launched a campaign through mass media by accusing Eritreans of being chauvinists,

neo-colonialist etc… in order to create a favourable environment for alienating Eritreans who resides in Ethiopia .  The notable

Secretary General of the TPLF Sebhat Nega alleged that, “Eritreans claim to be a superior race to Ethiopians, and”

the alleged reasons given during his interviewed with Al Jazeer in mid-March was, “that Eritreans call themselves the ‘Jews of Africa,

’ ‘the Black Israelis’ and they say they have the characteristics of these Black Jews,”27


by the deportees. In fact Human Rights Watch refutes Ethiopia’s claim that it had legal rights to deport its citizens of Eritrean background

who voted in the referendum for Eritrean independence.


In actual fact, based on the findings of Professor Legesse in the 1998, apart from 16.7% Eritrean citizens who went to Ethiopia since Eritrea

became independent in 1993, (see fig 2) 83.3% are Ethiopians by citizenship; this was further proved from 70.7% deportee

who had ID cards marked Citizenship: Ethiopian, although their place of birth is often in Eritrea.  One group of 102 deportees who arrived

in mid-July were all nearly ETHIOPIAN CITIZEN, who may have been born in Ethiopia . Dozens had never visited Eritrea and spoken

the Eritrean language, Tigringa.6


Further more the above 60% had lived in Ethiopia for 25-60 years.  It was ironic how deportees like Sayel Mehrlassie could have voted

for the referendum if she did not even know where Eritrea was.  During her interview with correspondence, she said, “I cannot speak Tigringa and

I had never once in my life set foot in Eritrea until they kicked me out.14  On top of this, Menkeros (Eritrean representative in

U.N made it clear that all those people now being deported did not choose to be Eritrean citizens but to remain in Ethiopia and to

continue as Ethiopian citizens after the referendum. The experience of other countries showed that, when Suriname became independent of the Netherlands , thousands of people who chose to remain Dutch citizen came to the Netherlands from Suriname .


 Prof. Legesse noted that, “It is unassuming to see the deportation of Eritreans who used to reside in Ethiopia at the expense of its electoral

success, five years after the referendum, 35% of whom had actually voted in the Ethiopia national elections in the 1996”.3


From this it seems that the Ethiopia government violated the right of its citizens just in order to confiscate their property on the grounds that they are

of Eritrean origin or voted for referendum.  One would considered that the deportation of Eritreans by the Ethiopian government in light

of its constitution is irrational and is in violation of the Ethiopian Constitution, in which Article 6 grants citizenship by birth to any person with one or

both Ethiopian parents.  Actually, the finding of Legesse proved 12% of those whose members have been deported were of mixed Ethiopian-Eritrean parentage.


The government of Ethiopia did not only expel its own citizens, but also it deported them forcibly by rounding them up like cattle on the sole

basis of being an Eritrean origin. Not only that but the Ethiopia government enforced 1,300 more deportees to cross the front line in the border conflict while the ICRC was working on a scheme for airlifting them.  


Deportees have been able to describe the cruel, and unpleasant manners of deportation.  According to the victims, armed officers often picked

them up from their homes, usually in the dead of night between 4 and 5AM.3  The police, for instance came to Mayram’s house before

dawn and fetched her husband (the couple had lived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa for 25 years) and was detained and finally sent to

Eritrea without warning, contravening Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which states that:


Geneva Convention. “Consequently many families like Mayram's have been separated. The truth of this has been presented in the following table.


Data on Separated Families Table 1


Separation of Spouses






Couples separated








Couples deported together








Not Relevant (single adult etc)








No data















Source: Legesse (1999) The breaking of families.


The forcible separation of parents from their children is another distressing aspect to the deportation. A study by UNICEF in Eritrea found

that 165 deportees contacted had been forced to leave a total of 291 children including nine under one-year-olds and 37 aged

between one and five.  Furthermore, Legesse's survey also revealed that approximately 4, 000 under‑aged children had been left behind

after their parents had been deported, among which 1,200 were left without anyone to care for them.

Data on Separated Families Table 1









Number of families


Number of children






















Other problems faced










Parent does not know








Source: Legesse (1999) The breaking of families.


According to the Human Right Group in Asmara, more ethnic Eritreans are being held in small police stations where there is virtually no monitoring

of their situation by international observers.

The youth in particular are most vulnerable to detention. Currently there are more than thousands of Eritrean youth in the concentration camps

of the TPLF, and some 1,500 Eritreans have been transferred from the former southern detention camp of Blatte to an unspecified location

and 1,000 citizens are missing.19


The following briefs add other incidents, which happened to Eritreans as the cruel deportation policy of the Ethiopian government was carried out.

·        Mothers were grabbed from their children during the apprehension.

·        A mother whose six-month old baby was snatched off and abandoned arrived delirious and agonized from swollen breasts.

·        Another woman who left four children behind without anyone to look after them suffered a mental breakdown and was taken to a mental hospital.

·        A, recently widowed, twenty-three old mother who had just lost her sister and was taking care of her mother but was taken away from her

seven-month old baby screaming and begging.

·        Many reported they could not bid farewell to their children who were in schools when they were taken away.

·        Almost all mothers were callously denied carrying even the breast-fed infants whom they were forced to abandon crying and without any one to look after.

·        Another locked the door of her house, leaving her small son sleeping inside because the security officers said she would be back in a few minutes.

·        Others have begged the soldiers to be allowed to take their children, but have been herded onto buses without even having a chance to say good-bye.

·      Owners of garages, hotels, shops & other unlisted establishments were forced to leave their businesses prone to pillage and theft.

·        One elderly gentleman, 74 years old, had been also taken immediately after an operation and put on a bus.

(Source: Geneva, August 4, 1998)


These cases are just a fraction of those reported to Amnesty International, CPE, and other Human Right activists.


Two months later, to echo the voice of the deportees, the Eritrean government’s delegation at the UN Human Rights Commission

on August 7th 1998 requested the Commission to pass a resolution on the deportation and human right violation in connection with

the current human right crisis, which would:


1.      Deplore the Ethiopian Government's gross violation of the human rights of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin residing in Ethiopia.

2.      Call for the reunification of separated Eritrean families, including arrangement of early and safe transport.

3.      Call for the immediate return of confiscated property to Eritrean and Ethio-Eritrean deportees and the payment of compensation for any loss

of property or income.

4.      Call for the immediate cessation of all mass detention and

5.      Expulsion of Eritreans; demanded the immediate release of all Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin who have been unlawfully

detained in prisons and captivity camps.

(Source: Statement by Eritrea to the UN Human Rights Commission, see Appendix 3)


Six months later that there was a similar appeal made by Amnesty International on January 1999, in order to urge the

international communities to break their silence and make a joint stand against the expulsions and other human right violations against

Eritreans in Ethiopia. There is mostly still silence from the international communities, and organisations in the face of Ethiopia ’s

continued deportation of Eritreans and confiscation of their properties.  


As noticed, there is nothing obscure about what has happened to Eritreans and various human right activists and representative

organisations have reported this.  The fact which is present in the “Uprooted” (Legesse, 1999) have been supported by Natali Klein,

a solicitor with the Australian Supreme Court, Human Rights Watch, The European Union Representative in Eritrea, US State Department,

UNICEF, Eritrea and the UNDP.    


Surprisingly, the UN did not take any adequate actions against the deportation of Eritreans by the Ethiopian government; even not against the

expulsion of U.N. staff of Eritrean origin from Ethiopia .  In early July 1999, Mr. Kofi Anan did not say anything about those 15,000 destitute

Eritrean and others deported; yet he launched Ethiopia ’s first investment guide, which the Ethiopian investment Authority announced on 5th of July 1999.

How is this justified?


In the early wave of deportation, the Ethiopian government was condemned by the UNCHR for deporting its citizens and revoking their passes. 

Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also expressed her profound concern at the Ethiopian government's violation.

However, it did not stop the Ethiopian government from deporting Eritreans.


The OAU General Secretary Salim A. Salim and the OAU members who are based in Addis Ababa also didn’t prevent Ethiopia

from deporting more than 60,000 Eritreans. In fact Salim A. Salim had declared that Ethiopia ’s objective was “To claim land occupied by
(Tekle Haimanot 1998). The OAU not only failed to take any action against the deportation of civilians, but also never raised its

voice against deportation of its own member staff that was of Eritrean origin.


 It is not clear whether they have accepted the justification given by Meles on 9 July 1998:


" As a sovereign state Ethiopia could deport any one it chose for any reason. “

This is a response Mary Robinson's received for her reaction.6


Criticisms has been levied against UNICEF for not taking charge to re‑unite these 4,000 children with their parents and protect them from

detention (see table 2) and others who are separated from their parent/s while they were deported from Ethiopia . 

This lack of adequate reaction against the Ethiopian government’s deportation policy is not only confined within the above

organisations, but also it extended to other states.


Human rights seem to have been a catch phrase of the USA and other Western countries in the last decades and it has lost its real value

for there is still a strong lack of condemnation and action against the Ethiopian government deportation policy by the International Community.


The US Department of State Office rarely gave a reaction concerning the detention and expulsion of Eritreans in and from Ethiopia. 

The only instance when the US broke its silence was a statement from the US Department of State Office spokesman, which said:


"We urge the government of Ethiopia to respect international human right and also to allow all these who were wrongfully

expelled to return to establish a compensation commission to investigate and recommend compensation for the claim”16


On the other hand, some members of the US and the British Embassies based in Addis Ababa were involved in providing

financial support for the Ethiopian government, while they were busy with deportation and detainment of Eritreans. 

  The U.S Ambassador David Shinn on July the 1st, 1999 made a grant of more than 24,000 Birr, funded by the

U.S Democracy and Human Right Funds knowing that Ethiopia was involved in war.


Moreover, on the 15th of October 1999, the USA provided $51.8 million in grants to Ethiopian food security and for education, the new

US Ambassador Tabor P. Nagy signed the agreement. According to the press release of the British Embassy the national lottery charities

board of the UK also announced the award of 158 grants worth, $32.6 million for a project to tackle poverty in Ethiopia.22 

However, it can be asked how these grants could be effective whilst the Ethiopian government is exacerbating the problem

through confiscating property of Eritrean and dismissing them from their jobs without any reason and denying them with anything to sustain their lives sufficient.


To some extent the writer gives some credit to the position taken by UNCHR, UN and other Humanitarian organisations in

condemning the Ethiopian governments deportation policy, particularly to the ACP‑EU joint assembly and passed a resolution

calling upon the EU Council to prevent Ethiopia from continuing violation of HR of Eritreans. The entire financial donation from

some governments and other organisation has not been able to stop the deportation.


In connection to the deportation, the Eritrean government is still appealing for international action against what it

calls “Ethnic cleansing” by Ethiopia (Pineau 99).




It seems that the Ethiopian government dismantled the Eritrean economy deliberately in order to divert the investment to Ethiopia and eventually

this policy proved successful. Following this, the flow of Eritrean migration increased mostly between late 1950s and mid-1970s for job seeking. 

However, the number of Eritrean migration was slowed down from mid-1970 to 1990s, and from 1991 onward it appeared to have increased

due to good relation between Eritrean and Ethiopia .


Nevertheless with the onset of the border conflict, in 1998, 70,000 urban workers who spent the most of their life in building Ethiopia had been

illegally deported. Regarding this, the report submitted to ICRC by Professor A. Legesse on 20th of April in 1999, indicated that 85% are

Ethiopian by citizen and, 6.8% of them were party members, 19.6% made financial contributions to the party's campaign funds and 45.2% voted to

elect the party (Legesse 1999).  This evidence affirmed that the allegation, which was given by Sebahat, the Prime Minster and the

mass media against Eritrean, is totally baseless.


Actually their deportation was not because they were threat to the national security but they were prosperous, hard working, committed and

dedicated citizens.   In fact, over 50% of the deportees who were forcefully expelled before August 1998 were professionals (August 4). 

This indicated that the TPLF leaders felt they were threatened by the Eritreans and their descendants in Ethiopia .

As a consequence of this, many Eritrean descendants’ became victims of cruel and illegal deportation.  Regarding this, the Amnesty International’s

representative said, “Women, some of them pregnant, children, the elderly, even hospital patients, are now being arrested and detained

in the middle of the night.”  Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin became vulnerable for deportation and detentions.


From the attempt by the TPLF leaders and other extremist groups in the Ethiopian body politics to develop a deep hostility towards

Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia , shows the severity of the crime of being an Eritrean.  Despite this vain attempt,

many Ethiopians of all ethnicity have rendered support and showed sympathy to the deportees to the extent that it was reported from

the official Eritrean government and heard from the relatives of the deportees who reside in Europe and the US .


It appears very sad when governments and international organisations have turned a blind eye to the suffering and mass depraved expulsion

of Eritreans.  The British government have showed prompt action when Idi Amine expelled the Asian community from Uganda and when

the Zimbabwean government tried to confiscate the fertile land from white Zimbabwean communities, a few years ago. 


Many government and international organisation have taken action against Serbian "Ethnic cleansing policy on Kosovo,” but no one even gave

the least possible care for Ethiopia ’s disgusting actions.   


Therefore, may I take this opportunity to ask the International community, UN, religious leaders, and politicians to give attention to the

current situation-taking place to Eritreans within Ethiopia ?

I further urge them not only to show their sympathy but also to take action to end this maltreatment of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean

origin by the Ethiopian government. To this I call upon the above governments and international organisations which have active role in

providing financial aid to Ethiopia, to put pressure upon the Ethiopian government in order to stop its hideous policy of ethnic cleansing against

Eritreans and feel the pain of the deportees, and others who are in the prison camp of the TPLF.


Finally, I would like the international communities and all concerned to listen to the echoes of those who are frightened of deportation,

confiscation of their properties and unjustified detention and imprisonment.