Since 2000, Ethiopia has received and hosted thousands of Eritrean refugees fleeing persecution linked to involuntary open-ended military conscription, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, compulsory land acquisition, and other systematic human rights violations. Following the signing of the Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship by the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea in July 2018, UNHCR has seen an increase of new arrivals from Eritrea. By the end of June 2020, the registered population under the Shire area of operation stood at 148,362 persons.
In 2020, UNHCR and partners operating in the Shire continued to provide protection and solutions support to Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in both the Tigray and Afar Regions, against a backdrop of substantial changes to the Ethiopia Government’s asylum policy coupled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The region has experienced a significant reduction in new arrivals and enforcement of movement restrictions as a COVID-19 prevention measure including the closure of the border. Between January-June 2020, a total of 9,463 refugees were registered in Tigray and Afar, representing over a 70% decrease in new arrivals from the corresponding sixmonth time period in 2019 (January-June 2019). Despite the recent political developments within Eritrea, there is no change in the root causes of displacement from Eritrea. Recent human rights reports do not indicate significant changes in the human rights situation in Eritrea and the protection needs of individuals from Eritrea. UNHCR thus anticipates that new arrivals will continue once the COVID-19 State of Emergency regulations are lifted.
UNHCR and its partners scaled up their efforts to respond to COVID-19. This included transitioning core protection services to remote mechanisms, scaling up awareness campaigns on COVID-19, enhancing WASH facilities within the camps, and supporting and equipping government health agencies to respond to the pandemic. Resources have been re-directed to support the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia in the health sector and to ensure that refugees are included in national and regional preparedness and response plans.