Ethiopians in Limbo: from statelessness to being a refugee in one’s own Country

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By Amesale Abera

Amsale Getnet Aberra
Amsale Getnet Aberra
The Ethio-Eritrea conflict has been portrayed as a war without a justifiable cause serving the interest of those in power, a war between brothers that has led thousands to perish in a desert and yet, another thousands to be displaced and evicted from what they once called their country. It is part of a recent history that the TPLF government had expelled close to 70,000 people of Eritrean origin from Ethiopia on the assumption that they were security threats to Ethiopia. In a matter of days, the government declared that those who were expelled and those who remained in Ethiopia have been deprived of their Ethiopian citizenship on the ground that they have acquired an Eritrean nationality due to their mere participation in a referendum that resulted in Eritrean independence.
The action of the of the TPLF government materialized although the 1995 EPRDF constitution, clearly guarantees that “[n]o Ethiopian national shall be deprived of his or her Ethiopian nationality against his or her will.” The action of the TPLF also came at the time after the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments reached an agreement that “Eritreans who have so far been enjoying Ethiopian citizenship should be made to choose and abide by their choice.”
The Ethio-Eritrea claims commission that was set up to adjudicate on claims of loss, damage and injury resulting from the conflict made a determination that the actions of the TPLF government has forcefully deprived Ethiopians their nationality on the wrong assumption that they have acquired Eritrean nationality and have, in turn made them stateless and has wrongfully deprive some who had dual nationality their Ethiopian nationality in violation of international and national laws. Unfortunately, the human rights violation committed by the Ethiopian government is not limited to making thousands of people stateless or depriving them of their nationality without their consent
If I may recount my own experience, I had the privilege of working with “refugees” who have fled from Eritrea while working at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the “asylum seekers” and “refugees” I met were born and raised in Ethiopia who were expelled from Ethiopia by the TPLF government. For some, Amharic was their native language and they spoke Tigrinya with an accent. They claimed that they call Ethiopia their home and they have quite an extended family in Ethiopia. For these group of “refugees” they have fled “their country” Eritrea due to the persecution their faced, due to their disadvantaged economic condition and also because they always felt that Ethiopia was their home. For some in this group, the possibility that their orange cards declaring their refugees status replaced with an ID which confirms, once again that they were Ethiopian for any legal purposes was more appealing than the resettlement prospect to third countries.
The 2003 Ethiopian nationality law clearly states that “[a] person who was an Ethiopian national and who has acquired foreign nationality by law shall be readmitted to Ethiopian nationality if he: returns to domicile in Ethiopia; renounces his foreign nationality; and applies to the Authority for re-admission.” For all of the “refugees” who once enjoyed Ethiopian nationality, all the requirement that are necessary to make them re-acquire their nationality are fulfilled- they have made Ethiopia their home once again, they have expressly stated that they would like to reacquire their nationality and some have even applied to the Security, Immigration and Refugee Affairs Authority to exercise such right.
Out of the Eritrean refugees which individually submitted their requests to the authority in 2010, none of them were successful and the reason that was given by the Authority was that they were all security threats to the country. Here, I can’t help to wonder why the government who has given the same people refugee status after conducting security clearance is unable to give them their lawful right to reacquire their nationality back-the nationality which for some was forcefully deprived from on the ground that they are security threats. It is also worth noting that the TPLF government seems to be making a group determination on reacquisition of nationality, instead of making an individual determination, which greatly impacts the outcomes of their requests. Finally, in a country where close to 500,000 refugees do not have any prospect for local integration- the ability to naturalize, work and be a productive member of a society, the action of the TPLF government to deprive some “Eritrean refugees” the ability to reacquire their nationality is a clear violation of human rights which has equal or sometimes worse consequences as depriving their nationality in the first place.
Amsale Getnet Aberra (LL.B, LL.M, M.A)