By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
MEKELLE, Ethiopia (ST) – Hundreds of Eritrean refugees who have for years been camped at various refugee camps in Northern Ethiopia, for the first time have began joining Ethiopian government owned higher institutions.
The decision is taken by Ethiopian authorities ten years after the two neighboring rivals went into the 1998-2000 border war that killed nearly 70,000 people.
The higher learning provision comes following Ethiopian government’s recent decision of ‘out of camp scheme’ that allows Eritrean refugees to live out of refugee camps and settlements.
The newly introduced scheme, which went into force in August following talks between the Ethiopian government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), allows Eritrean refugees residing in camps to independently live anywhere they chose across the nation, provided that they can sustain themselves financially or if they could sustain from supports of relatives outside.
The new program which was highly welcomed by the HCR also authorized Eritrean refugees to enroll in any of the state or private institution of higher learning as long as they are able to cover the tuition fees. The UN agency will also assist some part of tuition fee and other related costs.
In northern region of Tigray, by the borders to Eritrea, two government universities will enroll a total of 140 Eritrean refugees who met qualifications and finished all necessary entrance exams.
“The Axum University and two campuses of Mekelle University will admit a total of 140 students drawn from various Eritrean refugee camps based in this region,” Mekelle University member of staff on a condition of anonymity told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
“There will be an official welcoming ceremony at Mekelle university on Tuesday for the arrivals,” he added.
According to the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), which is the government arm responsible for the implementation of refugee protection and assistance activities in Ethiopia, by this program over 600 Eritrean refugees have already benefited this scheme to continue their higher learning.(http://www.arra.org.et/index.php/news)
Sudan Tribune has learned that other regional universities across nation have also begun receiving Eritrean students in a similar manner.
In the Ethiopian capital nearly all Eritrean students of the total 100 the Addis Ababa University said will accept, have arrived, said President of the well-known University, Professor Endreas Eshete.
Some activists agree that the Ethiopian authorities have been gradually and increasingly receptive to direct appeals by Eritrean citizens and human rights activist.
According to the United Nations, the tiny red sea nation, with a population of some 5 million, leads the numbers of refugees fleeing home compared to any other country not at war.
Despite heavy patrolling and tight border controls, last year 11,653 Eritreans made it to Ethiopia. Among these over 4,000 were Eritrean soldiers.
Reports also indicate that, the influx of Eritreans to neighboring countries is sharply increasing since the past few years as excessive repression, gross human rights violations and forced conscription into the army are on the rise.
Since the Ethiopia-Eritrea went into a border conflict, more than 60,000 Eritrean refugees have crossed the borders into Ethiopia seeking asylum.
In a recent interview with Sudan Tribune, leaders of Eritrean opposition organizations and refugee representative praised the new move by Ethiopian authorities as an important step forward to mend people-to-people ties of two neighboring countries.
Currently, Ethiopia hosts some 138,000 refugees including Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese, according to UNHCR.