Refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea in Ethiopia

Refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea in Ethiopia

Current Situation and Achievements to date

The government of Ethiopia continues to maintain a favourable support for refugees from Eritrea for whom prima facie recognition is applied. The influx from Eritrea continues at a steady pace with a monthly average recording of approximately 2,500 arrivals. By October 2016, some 18,455 Eritrean asylum seekers arrived. The government has been amenable to the application of the Out of Camp policy towards this population group. In addition to some 57,800 Eritrean refugees in camps in the Tigray and Afar regions of Ethiopia there are some 14,000 people of concern benefitting from the Out of Camp Policy. 

The Eritrean refugee camp population is predominantly young single people, with a large number of unaccompanied minors and separated children (UASCs) among them. Eritrean refugees have limited access to basic services in the camps and are unable to become self-reliant due to inadequate livelihood opportunities. There are limited alternative care arrangements for UASCs. Many families and individuals engage in onward movement from camps and face protection risks related to smuggling and trafficking. Other protection risks are related to lack of access to domestic energy or shelter which expose refugees, particularly women and girls to SGBV, domestic violence and FGM which are prevalent.

The main achievements in relation to protection and assistance for Eritrean refugees include access to energy from the national electricity grid at two of the four camps in the Tigray region. In terms of registration, all best interest assessment (BIA) related data has been captured in the ProGres database.  

Approximately 670 UASCs were reunited with their families. In academic year 2016, UNHCR in Shire recorded 1,631 children enrolled in the early childhood care and development (ECCD) program. 7,302 students are enrolled in primary school and 568* are in secondary (* - of these 308 are locals from host community attending in refugee secondary school). Over 1,000 refugees are benefiting from the tertiary education scholarship programs in Ethiopian universities and 1,400 youths are enrolled in Youth Education Pack (YEP) programs offered at Mai-Aini, Hitsats and Adi-Harush camps. 
In Samera, 1,480 students are enrolled in primary school and 519 students are attending in ECCD and 114 in secondary school programs in 2016. Public health achievements include the construction of an inpatient ward, maternal and child health center and drug store in both camps. 12 people living with HIV are receiving anti-retroviral therapy. 346 patients were referred from refugee camps for better treatments. Through 15 condom outlets, 294,439 condoms were distributed to refugees and the host community.

Eritrean refugees in camps in have access to the national justice system, though legal aid needs to be strengthened. There is limited information available concerning access to the judicial system for some people of concern, including detainees, SGBV survivors and victims of trafficking and smuggling. Efforts will be made to integrate community based complaint mechanisms in all programmes to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse, while adopting inter-agency approach.


Protection and Solutions Strategy (comprehensive)

UNHCR’s strategy for Eritrean refugees in Shire and Afar was developed in close consultation with the refugees, national authorities, and humanitarian actors and is aligned with the overall UNHCR Ethiopia country strategy. Key elements of the strategy have been guided by innovative, cost-effective and sustainable approaches to deliver basic needs and essential services, including life-saving activities. 

The influx of Eritrean refugees into Ethiopia continues at a steady pace with a monthly average of approximately 2,500 new arrivals recorded in the first six months of 2016. With a population profile which is composed predominantly of young single people with a large numbers of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), security from violence and exploitation and interventions to control the risks associated with onward movement remain high on the list of strategic priorities for UNHCR Ethiopia. In general, the operation maintains an active system of continuous registration to ensure data integrity.  Proactive identification and planning toward the mitigation of risks related to SGBV and child protection will be at the forefront of UNHCR activities in the Afar and Tigray regions of northern Ethiopia. UNHCR will actively seek to maintain the civilian character of all refugee camps in Ethiopia and to strengthen the safety of refugees. 

UNHCR will seek innovative, more cost-effective and sustainable ways to deliver basic needs and essential services such as water, sanitation, hygiene and the domestic energy supply as well as life-saving interventions in health, reproductive health and nutrition. Efforts will continue to improve conditions in the camps, while also transitioning to more sustainable activities and encouraging self-reliance. Cash Based Intervention initiatives already commenced and will be continued and expanded. Emphasis will be placed on primary health care and improving the food security and nutrition situation. While the operation will maintain a general focus on the provision basic and essential services to refugees, a deliberate effort will be made to ensure that refugee children and youth are fully engaged through the provision of basic, vocational and secondary education. 

In line with efforts identifying opportunities for solutions across the operation, UNHCR will strengthen the use resettlement as a protection tool and as solution for the growing protracted refugee populations in Ethiopia. More refugees will be submitted for resettlement, as the most tangible solution for most refugees in Ethiopia.  With regard to Eritrean refugees in particular, UNHCR will focus on the establishment of legal pathways as a way of mitigating the irregular migration of refugees towards Europe. The operation in Ethiopia will increase its support for family reunification of refugees with family linkages in third countries and will actively seek opportunities for legal migration such as scholarships, skilled worker visas, and humanitarian visas in addition to resettlement. 

Innovative and diversified partnerships will be pursued in line with the strategy to maximise scarce resources. In this regard, UNHCR will look for opportunities to expand partnerships with government, UN Agencies, the private sector, civil society and the refugees. With limited long term solutions available to the refugees, creative methods will be sought to support alternative legal pathways including assistance with family reunification, work permits, and further studies.

Prioritized Results

Provision of the lifesaving basic needs and essential services will be prioritized in 2017. Access to education will be given due attention to the refugees and asylum seekers in all camps (water, sanitation and hygiene; shelter; alternative energy, health, etc). For transitional shelter, the operation will only be able to partially cover the needs, with priority given to the extremely vulnerable cases and UASCs. The majority of the new arrivals will remain in temporary shelters. The provision of domestic energy and alternative energy sources, including connecting the camps to national grids, will also continue as resources permit, in all Eritrean refugee camps.  Priority will be given to communal facilities such as the hospitals, communal kitchens, schools, and vocational skills training centers in Tigray camps. Ethanol distribution at the household level to the most vulnerable will also be undertaken in all of the Eritrean camps. 

  • Provision of sanitary kits, soap and core relief items (blankets and sleeping mats only) for new arrivals will be undertaken.
  • Attention will be given to education (primary and secondary) for the population which is predominantly youth (75 per cent aged 25 years and below). 
  • Continuous registration, data analysis of population and issuance of individual documentation in all Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia (Tigray and Afar regions). Advocacy will be done for the issuance of birth certificates in 2017. 
  • Family based care for the UASCs will be prioritised and child protection will be mainstreamed within all sectors. 
  • Reception facilities will be improved to meet the minimum requirements of humanitarian response starting from the entry to the territory of the country. 
  • Track and reflect donor earmarking from the onset of the planning process.
  • Objectives linked to the Global Strategic Priorities will be prioritised fully or partially for 2017 interventions. 
  • Request for more resettlement opportunities from accepting countries in 2017. 
  • Promotions of vocational skills training with linkages to meaningful income generation activities (IGAs) to complement partners’ bilateral funds.


By the end of 2017, UNHCR, in partnership with the government of Ethiopia, partners and the donor community provided protection and humanitarian assistance to 75,074 Eritrean refugees hosted in 6 camps in the Tigray (38,064) and Afar (37,010) regions. During the period, the protection and assistance operation targeting refugees from Eritrea received 26,826 (23,971 in Tigray and 2,855 in Afar camps) asylum seekers who indicated the continuous violation of human rights in Eritrea as the cause of their flight. A majority of the new arrivals were received in camps in the Tigray region and comprised of a high number of unaccompanied and separated children and youth. Despite the high number of new arrivals, the refugee population in camps in Tigray as of the end of December was 38,064. This slight increase compared to a population of 34,367 at the beginning of the year is attributed to the onward movement of refugees from camps. Child Protection is a core component of the protection and assistance interventions targeting Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. In the Afar region for instance, children comprise nearly 60% of the population while in Tigray, children represent 40%, and when combined with youth (15-25 years), they together comprise over 70% of the population. Another unique feature of the Tigray based Eritrean refugees is that annually the operation received around 4,000 UASC new arrivals per year, 90% of these children are unaccompanied (not separated), presenting a major challenge in the provision of alternative care and family tracing. Additionally, around 35% of all children in the Tigray camps are UASC. A notable achievement in this objective was the placing of 52% of the 4,400 UASC in Tigray into family-based care, and the provision of cash support to 1,600 caregiver families, up from only 35% in 2016, allowing them the chance to grow-up in a protective environment. The protection of women also remained a priority during the reporting period, whereby targeted SGBV awareness campaigns reached over 3,394 persons across the camps, and 100% of the 296 survivors were able to access support. The health and nutritional status of the Tigray population of concern remained stable as all indicators remained within acceptable UNHCR standards. The nutrition survey in 2017 across all camps indicated a general improvement in GAM rate in Mai Aini camp (7.1%) and Adi Harush (7.7%) but increased slightly to 9.8% in Hitsats and 12.4% in Shimelba camps. In Afar camps, the nutrition situation is dire with the GAM rate being above emergency threshold of 15%. In Barahle the GAM is 22.9% while in Aysaita it is 19.2%. In regard to the provision of Water Sanitation and Hygiene, (WASH) refugees in 3 out of 6 camps hosting Eritrean refugees received 20 liters of potable water person per day. Refugees in the other 3 camps received far below UNHCR recommended basic minimum, mainly due to declining yield of boreholes and closure of one borehole in Hitsats camp as a result of high iron content in the water. The coverage of household latrines remains at 77% Tigray and 50% in Afar. Shelter coverage is 60 % in camps in Tigray while in Afar the situation is concerning at only 21%. There was marked improvement in education particularly in the enrolment of children in primary school in camps in Tigray. Some 11,659 pupils were enrolled in primary school compared to 6,820 in 2016 while in ECCD a total of 2,103 children compared to 1,417 in the previous year. In Afar, despite 60% of the population being children, enrollment remains low, with only 297 children in ECCD and 1,352 pupils in primary level. Overall, the operation made some achievements amid funding limitations and also explored opportunities for cohesion for refugees especially in; education, health systems, electrical grid extensions and livelihood opportunities. These initiatives in the long-run will help promote the CRRF agenda.

Unmet Needs

WASH: Supply of safe drinking water and ensuring that refugees live in good sanitary conditions has a direct impact on the health of the population. There is an urgent need to address water shortages in Adi Harush, Mai Aini and Hitsats camps where the per capita allocation is below 20 litres per day (e.g. in Hitsats camp water access is between 6 and 11 l/p/d). The operation needs to develop sustainable water schemes by embracing solar technology also establish a treatment plant for iron and manganese for one of the boreholes in Hitsats camp. Constructing additional 1,052 latrines and hence increasing the coverage of household latrines in Afar camps from the current 50 percent to 77 percent in Tigray camps would greatly improve the sanitation conditions and the general health of beneficiary population. Shelter: The shelter coverage in the camps hosting Eritrean refugees is low with 60% and 21 % for Shire and Afar respectively. The gap increases each year due to the steady increase of the new arrivals and the fact that the number of shelters being constructed each year are inadequate. In order to increase percentage of households with access to safe and dignified shelter to 80% across the 6 camps, there is a need to construct at least 3,500 shelters over a period of 3 years. Domestic energy: In Afar and Tigray regions, ethanol/kerosene fuel and charcoal briquettes being distributed to refugees are grossly inadequate to meet household domestic energy needs and as a result, refugees have to gather firewood from the already fragile ecosystem. This often leads to conflicts with host communities. Connecting the 3 camps of Shimelba, Barahle and Aysaita to the national electricity grid and the construction of 3 communal kitchens will reduce the protection risks associated with the lack of domestic energy. Child protection: Nearly half of all the 4,400 UASC in the Tigray camps are still living in ‘community-care’ (around 48%, nearly 2,000 UASC). This form of care leaves children living outside of a family environment and is not in their long-term best interests. UNHCR is also facing a challenge in providing shelters to UASC under community care arrangement, causing overcrowding at Endabaguna residential quarters. A heavy investment in family-based care, including cash support to kinship/foster families and community mobilization is required to reduce overcrowding. Non-food items: Provision of adequate domestic and hygiene items is an important aspect of protection. The last general distribution was carried out in 2015 and due to limitation of resources, UNHCR usually conduct targeted distribution to new arrivals. As situation stands, some 30,000 individuals from the old population and about 27,000 new arrivals expected in 2018 are in need of these essential items. Education: Key education indicators for Tigray camps schools are still below the required standards with classroom to pupil ratio for primary at 1:104, latrine to pupil ratio at 1:210, teacher to pupil ratio at 1:104 etc. The onward movement also has negative impact on participation of children in schools and leads to a high drop-out rate, particularly in secondary school. In Afar camp schools, education indicators are favourable but enrolment at all levels is seriously low. A comprehensive response including the construction of additional classrooms, hiring of teachers, and purchase of textbooks, desks and other supplies is required. There is also need to expand opportunities for tertiary education. Reception conditions: Steady arrival of asylum seekers at an average of 2,235 individuals per month usually requires sufficient funding for wet feeding and provision of adequate transit facilities at the border and in the camps. In addition, the logistics of transporting new arrivals from border points to camps a challenge; the vehicles require regular maintenance because of long distances (over 230km) between border points to either Shire/Endabaguna or Aysaita.

Key Performance Targets

Indicator Target Result (End Year)
# of active youth clubs or committees 30 87
# of unaccompanied children identified 5,100 4,080
# of children enrolled in primary education 8,000 13,100
# of children's committees, groups and other structures that are operational and facilitate children's participation 21 19
# of children aged 3-5 enrolled in early childhood education 2,200 2,602
# of students enrolled in upper secondary education 300 103
# of interventions in the water system 18 30
# of PoC who receive tertiary education scholarships 580 250
# of PoC enrolled in language classes 200 131
# of best interests assessments conducted 8,150 4,212
% of registered unaccompanied children in alternative care who receive regular monitoring visits 100 100
% of identified children with disabilities receiving specific support 63.5 5.8
# of students enrolled in lower secondary education 900 1,185
# of best interests determination decisions taken by BID panel 340 209
# of PoC enrolled in literacy classes 200 131
# of PoC enrolled in numeracy classes 200 131
# of separated children identified 300 863
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