Tigray peacekeepers from Ethiopia seek asylum in Sudan

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Nairobi: More Than 500 UN peacekeepers from Ethiopia’s Tigray region are refusing to return home. This was due to fears for their safety as well as deepening ethnic tensions.
Until last year the majority of the approximately 4,000 peacekeepers in Abyei (UNISFA), which is the disputed border between Sudan and South Sudan, were members of Ethiopia’s military.
As relations between Addis Ababa, Khartoum and Ethiopia deteriorated due to a territorial dispute and Ethiopia’s huge dam on the Blue Nile which Sudan fears will limit its access water resources, the Ethiopian contingent was replaced with a multinational force.
A UN spokesperson said that while most Ethiopian troops are now home, some have requested asylum.
“Some peacekeepers chose not to return home and are seeking international protection.” The spokesman stated that they are safe under UN protection.
“The Sudanese authorities have the responsibility of granting asylum. With the help of UNHCR, they take in these individuals.”
Major Gebre Kidane (a former Tigray peacekeeper) said that 528 Tigray-based Ethiopian soldiers have applied for asylum in Sudan. AFP reached out to two of his comrades and confirmed this figure.
“It’s not safe to return to Ethiopia, and we want the voice of Tigray people before the international community,” Byei, 40, said to AFP via telephone from Abyei. This was to explain his time in Ethiopia. Byei made the decision to apply for asylum early March.
Conflict has broken the country’s multi-ethnic population since Prime Minister Abiy Mohamed sent troops into Tigray on November 2020 to stop rebel attacks against military camps.
After early victories for Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which ruled Ethiopia almost 30 years before 2018, there was a resurgence in rebels. They retook control of Tigray last June and expanded into nearby areas.
Since then, the war has continued with Tigray’s essential services closed for months. Aid has been arriving at snail’s speed after both sides reached a humanitarian truce in March.
The region of 6 million people — about 6 percent of Ethiopia’s population — has been under a de facto lockdown, according to the United Nations.
Tigrayan officers were removed from the federal military soon after the war broke down. However, ordinary Tigrayans describe arbitrary arrests made in Addis Ababa.
“Peacekeepers in Tigray had previously returned to Ethiopia. Some of them were arrested, some were killed,” said Gebre Kidane, who has been based in Abyei since July 2020.
“The people of Tigray have been living in darkness, and the international community is watching silently. We want the international community to… pay attention.”
AFP did not reach Ethiopia’s government to request comment on the army’s asylum application.
Another Tigrayan officer said to AFP that he had also asked for asylum, just like his comrades in arms. However, he declined to provide more details out of fear of reprisals against the family.
Another soldier, who didn’t want to be identified for similar reasons, stated that he requested asylum “to express my strong disapproval with the federal government’s treatment of Tigray people.”
He added that top officers like himself “have a military history and knowledge… so the government views us as a major threat.”
He said, “So our goal it to be eliminated.”
His children are able to understand why he is staying in Ethiopia. He explained: “If they go there, they will know what will happen.”[to me].”
He said that UNHCR is now responsible for our situation and added: “I believe tomorrow will be better.”

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