UNHCR update on Eritrean refugees in Tigray, Ethiopia

UNHCR update on Eritrean refugees in Tigray, Ethiopia

The United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) today released key operational updates from the refugee response in Ethiopia, including Eritrean refugees in Tigray and efforts to prevent and respond to COVID-19.

COVID-19 context: As of 7 May 2021, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health (MoH) reported 261,580 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and 3,840 deaths in the country. A total of 1,287,801 people in priority groups were vaccinated against COVID-19, including 1,218 refugees.



Tigray Emergency: The humanitarian situation across the Tigray Region remains deeply concerning for refugees, the internally displaced and host communities. Civilians have endured six months of conflict with only extremely limited basic services and assistance available, leading to a significant escalation in humanitarian needs with new displacement ongoing.

With access restrictions lifted, UNHCR is working to reach those Eritrean refugees who have been dispersed by the conflict, as well as to significantly scale up IDP response operations while undertaking Protection, and Camp Coordination and Camp Management cluster leadership responsibilities.

Refugee Response: Nearly 8,100 refugees from the now closed Hitsats and Shimelba camps had relocated to Adi Harush and Mai-Aini camps either on their own or transported by the government from Shire. They continue to receive food and Core Relief Items upon arrival.

In Mekelle, Eritrean refugees from Hitsats and Shimelba camps continue to approach UNHCR, with 330 verified as of mid-April. UNHCR continues to provide protection counselling to those refugees who endured traumatic experiences and are in need of psychosocial support.

It has requested ARRA and partners to support 50 refugees and asylum-seekers from the Tigray camps who are now living in Aysaita camp and Logiya town in the Afar Region. ARRA has already provided core relief items and food rations to the group.

Voluntary repatriation from Kenya: Ninety-two Ethiopian refugees returned home from Kenya on 5 and 7 May 2021 as part of the voluntary repatriation exercise that was launched in February 2020 with the arrival of a group of 76 returnees. The operation was suspended afterwards due to COVID-19.

New arrivals from Somalia: Increased arrivals from Somalia continues to be observed at the Dollo Ado Reception Centre where close to 2,000 people are currently sheltered. Most of them arrived in 2021. 1,110 are living outside the reception centre which is currently accommodating 837 individuals- way above its maximum capacity of 500.

Relocation of South Sudanese refugees: Most of the 3,245 South Sudanese new arrivals in Pagak reception centre were relocated to Nguenyyiel and Kule refugee camps in Gambella Region while a good number of those that were found to be already registered in anyone of the camps in the region (recyclers) have spontaneously returned to their camps.

Agency for Refugee & Returnee Affairs (ARRA) is planning to facilitate transportation support for those who hailed from Pugnido camp given the distance from the Pagak Reception Centre. Nonetheless, the reception centre remains full as people continue to arrive daily.

 A total of 35,217 handwashing stations have been installed in communal centres and households in the different refugee camps to promote regular handwashing with soap. More capacity is needed, however, to ensure that every refugee household is equipped with a handwashing facility and to facilitate distribution of soap in a more consistent manner.

 2,469 trained health and community outreach workers are actively engaged in awareness raising, case investigations and management, as well as mitigation, prevention and control of the virus. In addition, refugee representatives, Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs), women, youth and child committees and other community representatives were trained and are actively engaged
to ensure that basic preventive measures are observed in the communities.

 The daily average per capita water distribution in the refugee camps stands at 20 litres. While some of the camps have access to more than 20 liters per person, per day, per the UNHCR standards, others are receiving less than the emergency threshold of 15 liters per person per day. UNHCR, ARRA and partners are working to ensure that all refugees have access to adequate potable water, in keeping with the minimum international standards.

 Isolation facilities, known as Temporary Assessment Units, have been set up in all refugee camps to temporarily quarantine possible suspected COVID-19 cases, pending their transfer to Government isolation and treatment facilities, as needed. UNHCR has provided hospital beds, mattresses, coverall gowns and other supplies to equip the facilities and the health staff while extending support to the Government-run treatment centers, which are also accessible to refugees.



 In the capital, Addis Ababa, where over 45,000 urban refugees reside, UNHCR is communicating with refugees via telephone helplines, WhatsApp and Telegram groups. Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs) and refugee leaders are also helping to raise awareness. In addition, telephone helplines and an online portal (Digital Request and Complaints System) are fully functional.
Concerned UNHCR staff are processing and responding to requests that are received on daily basis.

 In order to meet additional expenses for soap and other sanitary materials, UNHCR provides an allowance of 300 Ethiopian Birr ($7.13) per person per month, to urban-based refugees entitled to monthly living allowances. The intervention is monitored through post-distribution phone interviews by Protection staff.

 Registration services resumed (they were interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic) at the UNHCR’s office in Addis Ababa, to issue refugees with registration documents and update their data. Limited numbers are received per day due to the health measures in place, to ensure the safety of refugees.

 UNHCR continues to support the inter-agency COVID-19 response to the IDP situation in the country, distributing non-food items, equipping isolation and quarantine centers and providing community communications on health messaging, according to the UNHCR humanitarian update released today.