By Yonas Kibru — As Eritreans braced to celebrate their 18th anniversary of wilfull separation from Ethiopia with the staunch support of Meles Zenawi and his fellow TPLF bigwigs, an unprecedented birthday present arrived a week in advance for those deported for being a serious threat to Ethiopia’s national security.
Ministers in Zenawi’s flunky cabinet have this time been instructed to let back into Ethiopia Eritrean nationals deported in the wake of the Shabia invasion of May 1998.
The shocking decision was read out during a scripted interview with Berhanu Erdilo , the director of communications in Zenawi’s prime ministerial office.
As set out in the directive , all businesses and properties left behind by deported Eritreans can now be reclaimed by the owners who were in the first place expelled from the country following suspicions they had assisted Isayas’ war of invasion through intelligence gathering , fundraising and enlistment of ethnic Eritrean youth to serve in the war against Ethiopia.
The director of communications said : ” Should the returning Eritreans choose to stay in the country , they will enjoy equal investment opportunities as with local investors.”
The minister put the number of Eritrean nationals currently living in Ethiopia to an astonishing 8,000 despite popular knowledge that the number runs well into the hundreds of thousands.
Refugees International, the US based displaced persons charity which interviewed Eritrean deportees during the conflict estimates : ” Many , perhaps most Eritreans living in Ethiopia reacquired Ethiopian citizenship under a nationality proclamation enacted in 2003.”
According to Erdilo, for the last ten years the government of Meles Zenawi was dutifully looking after the businesses of the very people it implicated and deported for assisting the Shabia in its unprovoked war of invasion.
He said : “Cash frozen in blocked accounts in state and private banks will be released to the depositors.”
However, the minister made no mention of what his government has been doing to ensure the return of the estimated $ 3.1 bn Ethiopian businesses lost as the Shabia confiscated imported goods and machinery at the port of Assab.
Speaking on the high economic costs of the war in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Eritrea , Abebe Tefera , a senior Ethiopian economist said the following : “At least $ 3.1 bn had been looted or damaged by Eritrea at Assab port and from Ethiopian civilians in various parts of Eritrea during the two- year border conflict. The confiscated and destroyed properties and assets belonged to private companies, governmental organizations as well as Ethiopians expelled from Eritrea during the conflict. ”
He also said the Ethiopian government had also incurred a $ 397 m cost due to the two-year war with Eritrea, noting military expenditure spirraled to a whopping 8.2 per cent per year during the war.
As indicated by various Ethiopian sources at the time, when hostilities broke out , the Bank of Eritrea froze $ 289 m deposited by the Ethiopian government. Today no body in their right mind could expect the Shabia to hand over the loot.
While many Ethiopians say they do not want the Ethiopian government to confisicate businesses of foreign nationals in their country , they regard this latest announcement as a mere public relations exercise aimed at making official the raft of measures taken to benefit Eritrean nationals at the expense of Ethiopia since the end of the war in 2000.
Over the past 9 years, the regime has released tens of thousands of Eritrean POWs captured in the border war while the Eritrean regime continues to subject our remaining prisoners of war to inhuman treatment in deplorable prison camps across Eritrea.
In November 2002 the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Eritrea had not released all the Ethiopian soldiers captured during the 1998-2000 border war even though all Eritrean POWs were released by then to either stay in Ethiopia or return to their country.
Despite voting for separation from Ethiopia in the TPLF assited in 1993, many Eritreans still occupy residential and business premises owned by the the government Rented Houses Adminstration Agency and local authorities.
Ironically when tens of thousands of Ethiopian civilians were looted and expelled from Eritrea both in 1991 and during the border war , the TPLF turned a blind eye to their plight as they struggled to survive in makeshift plastic shelters in towns and cities across the country enduring deplorable living conditions .
Last June , Ethiomedia quoted Awate.com , a trusted Eritrean website , as saying the Ethiopian government was facilitating the repatriation to Ethiopia of thousands of Eritrean refugees stranded in Egypt as Israel rejected their asylum applications.
The regime took these unprecedented measures of goodwill to citizens of a neighbouring nation whilst turning the deafest ear to its own citizens pleading for assistance to return home from countries throughout the Middle East where they remain subjected to a life of slavery in the 21st Century.
The following quote published in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper last month characterises the attitude of Zenawi’s government to the plight of Ethiopian citizens :
“Eighty Ethiopian women remain in Tripoli Women’s Prison in north Lebanon for over a year accused of not having a passport which was either taken from them when they started as domestic workers, or which they never had when they arrived in the country. Most were arrested on the street after running away from their employers – usually because of abuses ranging from forced confinement and starvation to physical harm and rape. Some had fled after being accused of stealing. ”
In the last 18 years , there have been several accounts of horrible suicides , murders and rapes committed against the poor daughters of Ethiopia as the government in Addis Ababa looks away while unscrupulous agents and immigration officials exploit thousands of vulnerable families desperate to send their daughters abroad to subsidise their living.
Human Rights Watch says domestic workers are dying at the rate of more than one per week in Lebanon, most through suicide or in risky attempts to escape.
In a stark contrast to the unending misery of Ethiopians , Eritrean nationals continue to reap special benefits in Ethiopia often taking precedence over the citizens of the country.
Passports are issued without any questions in Ethiopian embassies throughout the world. Construction land is awarded to those wishing to secure a piece of the country. Those who run businesses get special favours in winning lucrative government contracts by beating down their Ethiopian competitors.
As if that is not enough, many Eritreans have been and are still being recalled to government posts they appeared to have been sacked from at the outset of the war.
As hundreds of thousands of war displaced Ethiopians and those deported in humiliation from Eritrea struggle to maintain their woeful day to day existence in their own country, Zenawi’s defiant government directive to rebuild the lives of those who assisted in triggering the invasion can only serve to further expose the regime’s emboldened resolve to suppress Ethiopia’s national interest whilst upholding the interests of those in whom it sees loyalty as it consolidates its grip on power.
The writer can be reached at: email@example.com