Ethiopia’s Treatment of Its Own IDPs Making Crisis Worse

Last year, in southern Ethiopia, intercommunal violence caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. Refugees International (RI) is deeply alarmed by the Ethiopian government’s renewed effort to carry out forced returns of these internally displaced people (IDPs).

“The government’s actions are making an ongoing humanitarian crisis even worse,” said RI Senior Advocate Mark Yarnell, who traveled to southern Ethiopia in September 2018. “I met displaced people who described horrific levels violence, including entire villages burned to the ground. The government pushing people to return to their home communities prematurely will only add to the ongoing suffering.”

Refugees International’s September mission to the affected area showed that government officials were coercing premature returns by restricting the delivery of assistance in IDP camps and telling displaced people they would receive assistance only if they returned home, even though many home areas remained insecure and damaged by the violence. IDPs who did return often ended up living in crowded secondary displacement sites near their destroyed homes. Renewed violence in December forced some to again flee for their lives.

However, last month, in an ostensibly positive development, the federal government presented a draft IDP Strategic Plan to ensure that any returns or relocations would be “voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable.” Furthermore, officials said they would learn from the problems of earlier return efforts.

Unfortunately, recent reporting demonstrates that the government is again coercing people to return—this time by demolishing existing sites, specifically in Gedeo zone, and leaving IDPs with no other options.  

“This is in no way voluntary and a major breach of basic rights,” said Yarnell. “The irony is that the Ethiopian government has been receiving international praise—deservedly so—for its increasingly progressive policies toward refugees, including promoting their right to work and access national services. But the way it’s treating its own displaced citizens is not only shameful, it’s inhumane.”

Refugees International urges the government to pause the current return effort until its Strategic Plan can be carried out in a manner that is truly voluntary, sustainable, and in collaboration with displaced people themselves.