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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 07/99: Battle in the Horn  
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Battle in the Horn Thursday, 22 July, 1999, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Ethiopia's Eritreans lose their homeland
Family in refugee camp
Farming families had to leave their cattle behind in Ethiopia
By BBC East Africa Correspondent Cathy Jenkins

Battle in the horn
More than 50,000 people were expelled from Ethiopia when the war with Eritrea broke out.

Ethiopia deported these people to Eritrea because of their Eritrean origins - even though most had lived in Ethiopia all their lives and considered themselves Ethiopian.

The deportees come from all walks of life - professionals and peasants alike.

Some are businessmen - others, like Ashebir Girmay, were soldiers in the Ethiopian army. Ashebir lost his hand fighting for Ethiopia in another war. Now he cannot get over his bitterness.

"I will never go back to Ethiopia," he says.

Former Judge Ismail Haj Mahmoud
Former Judge Ismail Haj Mahmoud: "All my documents show I'm legally Ethiopian"
Ismail Haj Mahmoud was a supreme court judge in Ethiopia for 10 years, a loyal servant of the Ethiopian state, and an active supporter of the governing party.

All that did not help when armed police came to his house to deport him.

"They came early. They knocked loudly," he recalls.

"All my documents show I'm legally Ethiopian. I was elected a supreme court judge. Now I'm expelled. I'm a de facto Eritrean."

Refugee camp

The former judge now lives in Asmara, a city which has absorbed many of the 58,000 deportees.

But the peasant farmers who were expelled from their villages near the disputed border now have nowhere to go except a bleak refugee camp in western Eritrea.

Kbrom Gebremicael left behind 80 cattle - his family's only assets.

Woman with donkeys
Survival is the first concern of people in the refugee camps
He and other families from the village of Sheyabo say they had only just finished harvesting when the Ethiopian authorities ordered them to go.

"It was the government militia," he says. They told us to come to a meeting. They went to every house. After that meeting we never went home. We had to walk to Eritrea.

All of them had worked the land for generations, and came to Eritrea knowing no-one. As the people have learned, there is no compensation for the expelled.

For the moment, survival is their immediate concern. The rainy season is starting, bringing with it flooding and malaria.

Eritrea says the international community ignored their plight.

"It's very disappointing because these are ordinary civilians who have established themselves in Ethiopia for generations," says Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

'Only Eritreans deported'

A statement published on the website of the Ethiopian government spokesperson asserts the government's right to deport Eritrean citizens "upon finding their presence in the country to be prejudicial to the public welfare".

The statement continues: "Ethiopia has this legal right because they are citizens of a foreign country (Eritrea). The Ethiopian government has not been deporting its own citizens."

The statement argues that the deportations are purely a matter of citizenship, not ethnicity, since there are several ethnic groups whose members come from both sides of the border.

Links to more Battle in the Horn stories are at the foot of the page.


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