Operation: Opération: Eritrea



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Key Figures

2019 year-end results
100% of refugees (80) in the Umkulu camp received permanent shelter and monthly food assistance (4.5kg of corn soya blend).
100% of urban refugees (140) received monthly multipurpose cash assistance.
100% of refugees had access to comprehensive health care, including referral services.
100% of the refugees in the camp (over 2,150) received monthly cash assistance for the first 4 months of the year.
800 More than 800 school-age refugee children were enrolled in school during the first 4 months of the year.
2020 planning figures
50% of refugees will receive shelter support and domestic items
50% of people with specific needs will be identified and supported with cash grants and medical support
100 camp-based refugees and 120 urban refugees will receive monthly cash grants to support their basic needs and access to services
41 refugee households (16 in camp settings and 25 in urban settings) will have access to resettlement opportunities or voluntary return
25 refugee households will access support and training to start businesses

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2019 650
2018 2,570
2017 2,879


[["Refugees",199],["Returned refugees",434],["Others of concern",17]]
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2019 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[4.89103671,3.8990943,5.22322441,9.72828768,9.528287220000001,6.165291219999999],"expenditure":[3.52431606,3.72825424,3.88632205,2.4504214500000003,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[4.89103671,3.8990943,5.22322441,9.72828768,9.528287220000001,6.165291219999999],"p2":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[3.52431606,3.72825424,3.88632205,2.4504214500000003,null,null],"p2":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020

Operational context

In 2019, the protection and working environment in Eritrea remained extremely challenging. Relations with the Government of Eritrea remained strained, with cooperation increasingly conditional on UNHCR repealing its eligibility guidelines for assessing the international protection needs of asylum-seekers from Eritrea.  UNHCR’s access to refugees and operational activities in Eritrea were tightly constrained as a result. 
In March 2019, the project partnership agreement (PPA) between UNHCR, the Office of Refugee Affairs and the Ministry of National Development was suspended. From mid-December UNHCR was no longer authorized to register new asylum-seekers, nor allowed access to the Umkulu refugee camp or to interact with refugees in urban areas. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs was designated as UNHCR’s focal point for all operational issues and could only be accessed through an appointment granted by the Protocol Department. UNHCR national staff were authorized to deliver corn soya blend to refugees in the camp on a monthly basis, but no communication with the refugees was permitted.  
From mid-December 2019, UNHCR was also no longer authorized to support the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees. 

UNHCR continued to advocate for the development of a national legal framework for asylum-seekers and refugees, as well as accession to the relevant international instruments relating to refugees and statelessness. 

Population trends

At the end of 2019, Eritrea hosted over 200 refugees, mostly originating from Ethiopia and Somalia. Some 140 refugees were residing in urban settings (and considered by the Government as immigrants), and almost 80 were camp-based refugees.  
Following the suspension of the PPA in March 2019 and the rumors of the closure of the camp, over 2,000 Somali refugees left Eritrea spontaneously for Ethiopia in 2019, reducing the camp population to some 80 people. UNHCR did not have further information on refugees remaining in the camp, nor on more than 300 individuals that remained unaccounted for.  
In 2019, almost 60 Eritrean refugees returned from Libya. However, due to the operational restrictions described above, monitoring was not possible.  

Key achievements

  • UNHCR supported school enrollments through the payment of school fees, materials, and salaries for teachers.  
  • 70% of urban refugees’ resident permits were renewed. 
  • One urban refugee departed on resettlement and one returned voluntarily to their country of origin. 

Unmet needs

Although the operation was only funded at 32%, unmet needs were related more to government restrictions than underfunding. 
  • UNHCR was prevented from implementing certain planned activities including cash assistance for camp-based refugees beyond March 2019.   
  • The suspension of the partnership agreement with the Government in March 2019 resulted in large-scale spontaneous departures from the camp, due to the lack of protection services and fears the camp would close. 
  • While the water supply network to the camp was well established, UNHCR was not permitted to provide regular maintenance to ensure continuity of water supply to the camp.  

Operational Environment

In 2019, the operational context in Eritrea is expected to change in line with the new political developments between Eritrea and Ethiopia in particular, and the horn of Africa in general. While related developments are ongoing, the easing of relations with Ethiopia and neighbouring countries has the potential for change, influencing return and reintegration of Eritreans. This may also have a follow-on impact on those leaving Eritrea as refugees or migrants.
Emphasis will remain on providing durable solutions for the existing refugee caseload while engaging government on returnee integration. To this end, a two track strategic plan has been developed requiring increased engagement on different fronts, with additional staffing and resources. The rollout of the two-track approach has already commenced and will be accelerated in 2019.
UNHCR will continue its engagement with the UN country team and regularly participate in the implementation of the five years (2017-2021) Strategic Plan Cooperation Framework (SPCF). The SPCF is meant to provide a platform for enhanced collaboration and coordination with the government ministries and the UN agencies.
Due to restrictions, the operational environment for UN agencies remains challenging, but permissible for day-to-day activities. UNHCR managed to continue its operation through agreement with the governmental partner Office of Refugee Affairs (ORA), in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other line ministries, as well as UN agencies. The relationship with the Ministries of Health and Education has been further strengthened as part of the ongoing effort to mainstream refugees’ services into the national systems.

Key Priorities

While durable solutions are pending, particularly, the halt of exit visa for the Somali refugees who have registered for voluntary repatriation, the operation intends to focus on enhancing socio-economic integration and protection pending solutions activities for the Somali refugees in the Umkulu camp. As such, priority will be given to the construction of more permanent or long-term shelters for selected households. In addition, the provision of small grants for business startup will continue to expand the ongoing efforts to increase the self-reliance of refugees. Provision of food assistance and basic social services will continue as well. Contingency plan is required to prepare for the possible return of Eritrean refugees from other countries, particularly from Ethiopia.   
Emphasis will be placed on community-based protection whereby reliance on programming will be reduced by the community taking more responsibility for protection within the community. This is also to reflect the current protection needs which are mostly social in nature and therefore required change can only begin within the community. This approach will be carried out through trainings and awareness-raising activities. The government will play an important role in this as the administrator of the Umkulu camp.
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2020
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  • 24-NOV-2020
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  • 19-NOV-2020
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  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 17-NOV-2020
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  • 11-NOV-2020
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