IOM has begun providing emergency transportation assistance for Eritrean refugees to access humanitarian services in refugee camps in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. A recent spike at the beginning of 2017 saw over 4,500 refugees crossing the Eritrea-Ethiopia border and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
In Endabaguna reception centre, located 20 kilometres west of Shire, refugees are being registered by the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the UN refugee agency UNHCR. Hosting over 1,000 refugees, the Endabaguna reception centre is currently operating at three times its capacity. Decongesting the overcrowded centre is crucial to avoid exposing the refugees to various health and protection risks.
According to UNHCR registration data, 39 percent of new arrivals are children, of whom 14 percent were identified as unaccompanied or separated. ARRA and UNHCR have procedures to reunite the unaccompanied and separated children with their families but the process is often lengthy, resulting in children remaining in the screening centre for extended periods of time.
Based on an urgent request from ARRA, IOM began providing emergency transportation assistance from 1 March to decongest Endabaguna and help refugees to safely reach the camps in Tigray. With the spike in new arrivals, ARRA’s logistical capacity was fully stretched to provide transport both from concentrated points along the 1,000 km border to Endabaguna and from there to camps.
Funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) enabled IOM to step in and move a total of 897 refugees to date to Hitsats, Adi Harush, Mai-Ani and Shimelba refugee camps.
Benium, 27, a skilled machinist, fled Asmara, Eritrea, to escape being forced into the military. He arrived in Ethiopia on foot, exhausted and in constant fear for his safety. “There were many times when I did not think I would make it. I did not know that there would be transportation to the (Adi Harush) refugee camp and I am glad to finally be safe,” he said.
To ensure safe and orderly movements, IOM conducts pre-departure medical screening to ensure refugees are fit for travel. Registered nurses escort vulnerable refugees, including pregnant women and people with disabilities.
People who are found to be unfit to travel or require additional medical follow up on arrival in camp are referred to existing health services provided by ARRA. On arrival, refugees are provided with a camp orientation and receive basic non-food items and food. They then meet with an IOM social worker to discuss their situation and the risks of further irregular migration.
“With no foreseeable end to the flow of refugees from Eritrea, ensuring safe and orderly migration for individuals to access critical and lifesaving assistance in refugee camps must be made a priority,” said Ashenafi Tefera, IOM’s Senior Operations Assistant in Shire.
As 150–200 refugees arrive daily at the Endabaguna screening centre, IOM will continue to work in close coordination with ARRA, UNHCR and partners to ensure refugees are supported with transport to safely reach the refugee camps.