Citing progress in the region, UNHCR set to end refugee status for Eritreans

Citing progress in the region, UNHCR set to end refugee status for Eritreans

Citing positive changes in the region, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced that as of the end of this year Eritreans would no longer be classified as refugees.

In making its decision, UNHCR pointed out that the root causes of the Eritrean refugee problem no longer existed, as "fundamental and durable changes" had occurred with the end of the 30-year-old war with Ethiopia in 1991 and Eritrean independence in 1993. Similarly, the agency said, peace has returned with the signing of a ceasefire agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea in June 2000 and the establishment of a UN-supervised security buffer zone between the two countries.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees left Eritrea for neighbouring countries as a result of the country's war of independence, and a harsh famine in 1984/85. In the wake of the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in May 2000, hundreds of thousands more fled their homeland.

"I believe that these two groups of refugees from Eritrea should no longer have a fear of persecution or other reasons to continue to be regarded as refugees," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. "They will, therefore, cease to be regarded as refugees by my Office with effect from the end of this year."

The 1951 Refugee Convention ceases to apply to any refugee "if he can no longer, because the circumstances in connection with which he was recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality."

More than 100,000 Eritreans have already gone home, either on their own or under a voluntary repatriation operation that UNHCR began in May 2001 and plans to continue.

The agency said today that after 2002, it would continue assessing claims of Eritreans seeking asylum. Those found to be in need of international protection would be allowed to remain in their current host country as refugees. Those who do not qualify for asylum but want to remain in the host country will be expected to legalize their stay there, UNHCR said.