The authorities deported more than 20 Ethiopians, handing them over to Ethiopian forces at the border town of Wachale on 28 December, against international law. Many Oromo and other nationals have been refouled within the last few weeks – where the technical-legal term non-refoulement is a principle in international law, specifically refugee law, that concerns the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. Unlike political asylum, which applies to those who can prove a well-grounded fear of persecution based on membership in a social group or class of persons, non-refoulement refers to the generic repatriation of people, generally refugees into war zones and other disaster areas.
Oromo Support Group (OSG): December 30, 2011 Press Release – Refoulement of refugees from Somaliland to Ethiopia – Call for Action.
The government of Somaliland warned 90,000 immigrants that they had to leave several months ago and at least half had left when the government, responding to a request from the Ethiopian government at the beginning of September, announced it was cracking down on illegal immigrants. Ethiopia requested the return of 500 political refugees, mostly Oromo accused of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
At the beginning of 2011, in order to encourage their integration into the local community, UNHCR withdrew allowances to two thirds of the 470 recognised refugees and their families. In October, the Somaliland government announced that it was no longer legal to employ or rent property to illegal immigrants. Employers and landlords, many of whom by this time were owed several months rent, did not distinguish refugees and asylum-seekers from illegal immigrants.
The refugees and more than 2,400 registered asylum-seekers (plus many more who wished to register) were therefore made destitute. Fearing imprisonment, torture and other abuses if they returned to Ethiopia, several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers camped at the Social Welfare Centre, run by Save the Children and funded by UNHCR, in the capital.
A number of Oromo, Eritrean and Ogadeni refugees have been refouled from Somaliland to Ethiopia in recent years, including earlier in 2011 (see below). At least three recognised refugees were taken on 25/26 October and at least one on 10 November.
Following a visit by the Interior Ministry to the Social Welfare Centre the previous day, a delegation of 20 refugee representatives, including five women, met at the Interior Ministry with UNHCR on 22 December. When the refugee delegates refused to agree to move from the Social Welfare Centre, they were taken away in two police vehicles.
On 28 December they were reported by several sources to be in detention in Wachale. According to one source they were handed over to Ethiopian security forces at midday.
The refoulement of recognised refugees contravenes the UN Convention on Refugees. The remaining refugees, asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants in Somaliland are at risk of being forcibly repatriated to Ethiopia.
The twenty, including two breast-feeding mothers, who are feared to have been refouled on 28 December are:
Abdurahman Yousuf Mohamed 758-08C00303
Abdulaziz Ahmed Ali 758-06C00349
Abdele Tefo (Tato/Tabso Nure) REC/0355/08
Abdeta Saniyo (Sayo/Saliye Yuye) 758-08C00224
Abyot Abera Gebre-Selassie 758-04C0027
Amina Mohamed Umar
Amir Tamam Hassan REC/0344/08
Araya Berhanu Rada 758-04C002
Getachew Feyisa Sarda 758-08C00146
Junedin Ali Mergan
(Barsisa) Kalif Hassen Ahmed REC/0554/08
Mohamed Aliyi Haji
Mohamed Nure Ibrahim (Ali) REC/1238/08
Mohamed Yusuf Mustefa 758-06C00081
Nasir Usmael Muse RF/SOMHA/07C002
Sada Mohamed Ali
Said Tumo (Tulu) Nure REC/0231/08
Other recent incidents of refoulement from Somaliland: Recognised refugee Abdusalam Haji Muktar was detained on 20 April 2011 in Hargeisa. Despite the efforts of UNHCR, he was refouled 3-4 months later. Refugees Reyad Kemal Hussen (file no.758-04C00245), Ali Ibrahim Haji and Abdurahman Mohamed Qabatoo (aka Sheikh Abdurahman Qabatoo) were seized during the night on 25/26 October; Abdishukuur Mohamed Usman (file no. 2006/055) was taken at midnight 10 November. These are believed to have been refouled. Another man, taken in the same period, escaped from detention.
OSG calls on supporters to register their concerns, about these episodes of refoulement and the possibility of more incidents, with diplomatic missions of the Republic of Somaliland and with UNHCR representatives in their host countries.