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
. Many Eritreans are also reported to be forcibly interned in makeshift transit camps awaiting deportation. Ethiopia
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.
Following the eruption of the border conflict
Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin, claiming they were a threat to
national security. 70,000 of the Eritrean residents in
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
understand the motives behind the EPRDF (Ethiopian government) deportation policy. It also considers the historical background to the migration
of Eritreans to
It will give:
For centuries, different areas of the present
Abyssinian Empire. It was recognised as a political entity with fixed
territorial boundaries demarcated by
in 1941 and the country was under British administration until 1952.
In the Second World War, when
(a former British colony) and the South under
support Eritrean independence, and in
"…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
Ethiopian government established Amharic as the official language of
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
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,
the international communities, despite the statement of Dr. Mantienzo the chairman of the UN Commission on Eritrea in 1950
UN Resolution on
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
Firebrace (1984) noted that, in 1939, there were over 846 registered transport companies, 642 construction works,
trade companies and 728 light industries in
as well as a good standard of light industries present during the Italian colonisation.
Most of these were located in urban areas such
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
Eritrean population was urbanised, which was unusual for this region of Africa in the colonial era as compared to,
Growth of light industries and communication
infrastructure continued after the defeat of the Italians in 1941. This was due
importance in military operations in the region for both
This development ceased after WW II and a number of factories were closed down. Unemployment was exacerbated further when
the British administration in
Further growth of
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
did not favor this and the emperor imposed high
taxation on foreign investors who wished to invest their own capital in
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
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
For example, between 1950 and 1960,
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
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.
the Italian colonization the level and standard of education in
in 1942 there was change in the standard
of education in
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
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
As a legacy of the educational
system of Eritrean government in the early 1960s,
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
institutions of higher learning in
1166 to 5581 was one of the few examples24.
Erlich (1983), who was lecturer
of Ethiopians in the early 1970s,
which might be attributed to the higher standard of education in
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,
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
Fig. 2: The fluctuation of Eritreans migrating
the State of
Erlich pointed out that one
factor of the considerable socio‑economic development in
Eritreans in Ethiopian national life, which was able to supply
Therefore, one would assume the building of modern
Background to the deportation
of Eritreans from
The participation of Eritrean
migrants in the field of skilled labour in business and foreign trade meant that
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
Despite this, there was still a large Eritrean
community of 550, 000 living in
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
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
as saying that “The 1,500 members of the Committee used to employ about 45,
000 workers in
The Indian Oceans Newsletter also reported that
the majority of large contractors in
of one of
large number of Eritrean businessmen/women active in
Most of the second and third generations of
Eritrean residents in
“…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
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
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
happened to Sudanese businessmen and other residents in
Regarding this, one aid official noted that the
first targets for deportation were the wealthier Eritreans who formed a
substantial part of
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
“…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
(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
Even in the history of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict has there never been seen such a brutal and disgusting act. During the previous governments,
on Eritreans property that resided in
properties belonging to Eritreans in particular
and put in on auction, while there was liberation struggle in
Menghistu had nationalised the
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,
Ethiopian government has the right to deport under the
In a separate interview with Radio
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
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
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
mid-July were all nearly ETHIOPIAN CITIZEN, who may have been born in
the Eritrean language, Tigringa.6
Further more the above 60% had lived in
for the referendum if she did not even know where
I had never once in my life set foot 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
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
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
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.
Data on Separated Families Table 1
Separation of Spouses
Couples deported together
Not Relevant (single adult etc)
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
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
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
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
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
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
Eritrean and others deported; yet he
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
from deporting more than 60,000 Eritreans. In fact Salim A. Salim had declared
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
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
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
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
The only instance when the
"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
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
Moreover, on the 15th of October 1999, the
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
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
“Ethnic cleansing” by
It seems that the Ethiopian government
dismantled the Eritrean economy deliberately in order to divert the investment
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
Nevertheless with the onset of the border
conflict, in 1998, 70,000 urban workers who
spent the most of their life in building
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).
indicated that the TPLF leaders felt they were threatened by the Eritreans and
their descendants in
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
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
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
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
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
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.